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Jio, Airtel and Vi also participate in pre-bid meeting of smart meter tender from Ministry of Power

India’s largest-ever tender for procuring 10 million smart meters issued by the Ministry of Power will see participation from power, infrastructure and telecom majors. Business Standard has learnt that, close to a dozen meter manufacturers and leading power sector conglomerates have participated in the pre-bid meetings and are likely to submit interest.

This includes infrastructure companies such as Adani, L&T, Robert Bosch, EdF, Tata Power, India Power, and Ashoka Buildcon. Leading meter makers such as Landis+Gyr, Schneider, Secure meters, Anvil Cables, Avon have also participated in the pre-bidding discussions and are likely to place bids. Intellismart, a joint venture of state-owned entity EESL and NIIF, has also shown interest.

The first phase of the tender is for procurement of 2.5 million meters, which will be installed in the central and western region of the country. The tender has been floated by state-owned Power Grid Corporation of India (PGCIL) for installing Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) projects. An AMI consists of a smart pre-paid meter and communication infrastructure in integration with a network monitoring system, cloud deployment and consumer portal.

As a smart meter ecosystem depends heavily on telecom connectivity and backend IT infrastructure, telecom sector majors Jio, Airtel and VodafoneIdea have also participated in the pre-bid meetings, said industry sources. IT service providers, such as Fluentgrid, SAP, Oracle and Siemens, have also shown interest to collaborate with meter manufacturers, said industry executives.

The smart meter rollout is part of the newly launched power distribution reforms scheme of the Centre. The Rs 3-trillion Revamped Distribution Sector Scheme (RDSS) aims to improve the operational efficiencies and financial sustainability of state-owned discoms/power departments by providing conditional financial assistance.

The scheme has an outlay of Rs 303,758 crore with an Rs 97,631-crore estimated gross budgetary support from the Centre. Of this, Rs 10,000 crore has been allocated for smart metering infrastructure across the country.

Government estimates indicate deployment of 250 million smart meters for domestic consumers.
RDSS envisages smart metering on the OPEX mode and provides financial support to discoms opting for prepaid smart metering.

PGCIL has notified specifications for meter makers, communication service providers and technology contractors in its tender notice. It has recently amended the eligibility of the communication infrastructure solution to ‘RF (License free frequency band)’ and Cellular – 4G/NB-IoT. It was earlier 4G or 2G frequency band. Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) is the most modern wireless technology and has been used in 5G.

Meter makers are apprehensive about the change. “The NB-IoT option restricts us to fall back to 2G in areas where this frequency is not available. The smart meter deployment under this project will happen in a mix of regions, semi-urban and rural included, so the communication tech specs should have been kept open,” said a metering industry executive.

Telecom sector experts, however, have this saying as the metering is a long-term project, newer tech should be part of it. “The 2G segment is diminishing in India and would eventually be phased out. Telecom service providers are looking to convert their customers from 2G to 4G and are investing in 5G technology as it will bring a higher average revenue per user. NB-IoT is a mature technology and has been adopted for smart metering across the world. Data transfer expectations are also moving towards real time, making newer technologies ideal for smart metering,” said a senior executive with a leading telecom company.

With this change in the tender specifications, PGCIL has shifted the last date of submission of bids to September 9 from August 30, earlier, said executives. Government officials said the tender is set to receive record interest and bids. Business Standard

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