Proving the Business Case for the Internet of Things

Sigfox gives smart makeover to Japanese gas meters

Steve Rogerson
December 3, 2019

The Sigfox network is helping 850,000 Nippon Gas (Nicigas) gas meters across Japan get a smart makeover by the end of 2020, thanks to a retrofitted gas meter reader developed by UnaBiz and Soracom.
The project is said to be one of the largest deployments of smart utilities technology to date.
Space Hotaru, an original concept by Nicigas, is a reader that is easily retrofitted onto existing gas meters to enable smart features. The network controlling unit (NCU) collects and transmits gas consumption data to Nicigas’ Stream IoT data platform via Sigfox’s Japan-wide 0G wireless network allowing the gas valve to be controlled remotely. The NCU is energy efficient and is expected to last more than ten years on internal batteries.
The Space Hotaru addresses key issues that the gas industry commonly faces: collecting data in a cost-effective way to allow for real-time insights. Since the adoption of the reader, meter data that used to be read manually by agents once a month are now collected by the NCU on an hourly basis, and sent to Nicigas Stream daily.
Collected data are used to visualise and predict the amount of gas remaining in households, allowing timelier replacement of gas cylinders and improving the quality of service to its consumers. In addition, the NCU also reports on meter related incidents. In the event of an earthquake, the gas valve is programmed to auto-close, bringing convenience and real-time security to the properties.
This was made possible thanks to a collaboration between Nicigas, Soracom, UnaBiz, Sigfox and Kyocera Communication Systems. It runs on the 0G network operated by Kyocera.
A spokesperson from Nicigas said: “The combined expertise of Soracom and UnaBiz in software and hardware development, respectively, has helped us bring our idea to mass production quickly. The team’s competence and dedication were the key success factors in developing this durable and cost-efficient smart gas meter, and their speed to market is simply unparalleled.
“With more precise gas consumption data, we can better analyse our demand and supply and turn them into actionable insights for our logistics and distribution channels to achieve maximum resource efficiency. In addition, it will enable us to propose optimal energy usage plans to our existing and potential customers.”
Nicigas anticipates that the NCU project will give the company a technology lead in both the shifting Japanese consumer market and the global energy front. Nicigas plans to offer Space Hotaru and the integrated system supported by Nicigas Stream to other gas retailers and other energy retailers.
“It’s really exciting to get this project turning to mass deployment thanks to this collaboration,” said Ludovic Le Moan, CEO of Sigfox. “Sigfox is on the way to exceed its target of 15 million objects connected to our network thanks to the increasing maturity of our market. This project demonstrates the amazing potential of industries to connect their assets for higher revenues and margins.”
Tasked with designing and manufacturing Nicigas’ hardware, UnaBiz points to how effective and affordable the IoT can be, going well beyond the utilities sector, in logistics and facilities management, for example, allowing companies to optimise on the digitalisation of their processes.
“We want to design high-quality, economical and sustainable solutions that can help companies and industries optimise their processes and grow sustainably,” said Henri Bong, CEO of UnaBiz. “Getting connected doesn’t always have to mean having to completely re-haul assets. It is important that businesses, consumers and the environment all win in this process.
His view is shared by Ken Tamagawa, CEO of Soracom, which provides the platform that connects devices in sectors that range from agriculture, energy and construction to consumer electronics, manufacturing and real estate.
“Nicigas represents a prime example of the benefits that a smart IoT connectivity platform brings to large-scale deployments,” he said. “The combination of IoT technology and cloud capability lets businesses connect devices quickly, affordably and securely anywhere in the world, while increasing efficiency, sustainability and customer satisfaction.”
Nicigas is an integrated energy retailer and supplies LP gas, city gas and electricity to 1.5 million customers in the Kanto region of Japan. In Japan, the electricity and city gas retail market were fully deregulated in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Soracom is a provider of smart IoT connectivity, offering a cloud-native wireless service designed for connected devices. Founded in 2015, it serves more than 15,000 customers around the world in industries ranging from agriculture, energy, construction and transportation to consumer electronics, manufacturing, real estate and healthcare.
UnaBiz is an enabler of massive IoT in Asia. It provides a diversified range of expertise from product design to manufacturing capabilities, tapping into a wide range of skills and resources from the IoT ecosystem to power business growth. In 2018, it raised over US$10m in series A funding.