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Silicon Labs Enables NextCentury's Wireless Submetering Systems to Optimize Natural Resource Usage


Imagine a world where leaky toilets send text alerts, water waste shrinks by billions of gallons, and apartment dwellers are satisfied with fair, individual utility bills. This is the reality NextCentury has woven into the fabric of cities by revolutionizing submetering systems with wireless connectivity.

Although submetering systems have existed for over 100 years in the United States, the installation, configuration, and wiring processes for systems before NextCentury’s technology was introduced were often long and tedious. On average, users were required to spend between a couple of weeks to several months to set up the entire system, preventing widespread adoption.

Over recent years, new advancements in wireless connectivity, growing consumer interest in sustainability, changing legislation and policies, and steadily increasing utility costs have fueled a rising demand for utility management companies to innovate their smart metering technology with the IoT.

NextCentury Unlocking Wireless Submetering Potential with Silicon Labs Technology

An Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study analyzing utility submetering companies’ conservation promotion efforts over the last several years recently reported that submetering systems like NextCentury’s saved an estimated tens of billions of gallons of water in 2023—making it one of the largest conservation promoters in the United States. Founded on the principle of promoting resource conservation to help improve communities worldwide, NextCentury recognized that there was untapped potential in the evolving utility landscape.

The overriding philosophy for NextCentury’s approach is to make the submetering installation process as simple as possible and generate more value from the data that its meters collect. NextCentury successfully accomplishes this goal by creating the individual meters for gas, water, and electricity that go out in each unit, reading in the individual usage, and designing the wireless system that pulls in all those reads. NextCentury then runs analytics on the data to identify different alerting events and shares these insights with billing companies, which utilize that information to issue individual bills for each tenant.

Since the submetering system company was founded in 2016, NextCentury has deployed over 2.8 million meters throughout the United States and Canada that actively monitor gas, energy, and water usage. It adds about 40,000 new apartment units to its wireless reading system every month and is recognized as one of North America's market leaders in submetering equipment. Every single one of these 2.8 million meters has had built-in support for Silicon Labs’ Si4460 radio, which allows NextCentury to achieve the longest range possible for its devices. Long range is a key factor for simplifying wireless device installation because the more range metering devices have, the easier it is to get them installed, work, and communicate together. The Si4460 radio also has significant built-in flexibility that enabled NextCentury to implement several custom additions to achieve extreme long-range.

Initially, NextCentury used a multi-chip solution consisting of an 8-bit MCU and the Silicon Labs Si4460 Sub-GHz radio. As the technology evolved, NextCentury shifted from an 8-bit to a 32-bit MCU solution with Bluetooth LE while continuing to use the Si4460 due to its proven performance in the field. The release of the EFR32FG28 allowed NextCentury to consolidate these devices into a single chip by combining the 32-bit MCU, Bluetooth LE radio, and sub-GHz radios into a single Wireless MCU. The flexibility of the FG28 sub-GHZ + Bluetooth LE SoC enabled NextCentury to maintain its proprietary implementation with minimal obstacles due to the tireless support of the Silicon Labs team during the development process.

The Challenge

NextCentury recognizes the untapped potential of submetering in promoting resource conservation and empowering communities. NextCentury wants to transform the industry by making submetering simpler, smarter, and more valuable. For decades, submetering, the practice of individually metering utilities in multi-unit dwellings, was plagued by cumbersome installation and configuration processes. Setting up a system could take weeks, even months, hindering widespread adoption and resource management efforts.

The Solution

NextCentury has revolutionized the submetering industry through effortless wireless installation, actionable data-driven insights, and strategic collaborations with solution providers like Silicon Labs. Since 2016, every NextCentury meter has housed Silicon Labs' Si4460 radio, renowned for its exceptional range and flexibility. This partnership has evolved in recent years, with NextCentury now leveraging Silicon Labs' FG28—sub-GHz and Bluetooth LE radios alongside powerful ARM processors—for even greater scalability and performance. NextCentury’s technology fuels rapid deployment and unlocks deep data analysis, empowering building owners and billing companies with efficient resource management and personalized billing. Recognizing the broader appeal of its user-friendly system, NextCentury developed Next Meters, a tailored solution for municipalities. Under Next Meters, innovation continued with the Next Connect stack, featuring a proprietary protocol and diverse connectivity options for unparalleled flexibility and scalability. .

The Result

NextCentury has become a submetering equipment leader in North America. Since 2016, NextCentury has deployed over 2.8 million meters throughout the United States and Canada that actively monitor gas, energy, and water usage. It currently adds about 40,000 new apartment units to its wireless reading system every month. NextCentury's focus on easy installation, data-driven analysis, and collaboration has not only given individuals the tools to be more aware of their resources and take responsibility but has also paved the way for a smarter future in resource management and empowered communities. Silicon Labs’ IoT solutions and developer support have significantly transformed NextCentury’s wireless submetering devices.

The Pursuit of Innovation in Wireless Submetering

With streamlining from Silicon Labs’ technologies, NextCentury’s submetering system has significantly reduced installation from months to hours. NextCentury also proactively looks for any issues that could be out in the field that their team can remotely adjust or fix. Without submetering, tenants could identify if a problem was happening, but they didn’t know what it was, so they would have to go door by door to figure it out. NextCentury can proactively help tenants in those units remotely. With submetering, tenants can be billed for what they use and receive alerts when their usage looks out of the norm, which could be from a leaky toilet, for example. This monitoring service and alerts via text messages, emails, or phone calls can help identify and remedy issues immediately.

NextCentury has carved a niche in wireless submetering with its user-friendly system. However, its reach extended beyond its initial target when city utilities, drawn to its simplicity, started adapting it for municipal metering. Recognizing this organic demand, NextCentury designed Next Meters – a solution specifically tailored for municipalities.

Under the subset of Next Meters, NextCentury has developed and designed a proprietary protocol called the NextCentury Protocol and is coming out with a new Next Connect stack. NextCentury will provide many additional technologies under the Next Connect stack, from fixed network technology to cellular connectivity technology. NextCentury is taking an innovative approach by allowing multiple physical layers to integrate into a network layer on its stack. Ultimately, its integration with other large technology companies will happen on the server side.

One of the biggest differentiators about NextCentury as a company is ensuring that everything it has ever made is completely compatible with each other. All its legacy devices are compatible, meaning the fourth generation of its equipment is completely compatible with the first generation of equipment that it released. The new municipal solution, Next Meters, will also have devices completely compatible with its submetering system. This means that as Next Meters implements systems in more cities over time, it’s not only going to be able to spot or pinpoint issues going on in individual units but will also be able to pinpoint where issues are in different cities.

For example, there are a few reports showing how much water cities are putting into their infrastructure that goes unaccounted for. In fact, Hyderabad’s report showed that 40% of the water they were putting into their infrastructure was disappearing. Wireless reading systems that use the latest technologies, like NextCentury’s Next Meters, are the solution to helping find those missing resources. For instance, NextCentury can pinpoint issues happening in apartments with high confidence because they get hourly reads and see what's going on every 10 minutes throughout the day. In most existing submetering systems, companies get one read every month; in some newer systems, they get one read every day. But with that kind of resolution, there isn’t a way to determine if tenants have a leaky toilet or took a longer shower one day because the companies can’t get that information out of their system. Thankfully, Next Meters will now be able to provide insights into utilities in multifamily properties and help better utility management in communities.

Future Outlook of Smart Utility Management

Silicon Labs’ wireless solutions and developer support are significant in helping innovate utility management technology. By working closely with partners like NextCentury, Silicon Labs supports the development of user-friendly and reliable wireless submetering systems that help make the lives of building management easier and allow people to be more conscientious about how they use their resources.

NextCentury plans to launch Next Meters' product line at the end of Q1, and many cities are excited to put in the new system specifically designed for municipal city utility monitoring.

Silicon Labs looks forward to continuing to innovate smart utility metering devices with the IoT, providing user-friendly setups and valuable insights that can promote resource conservation worldwide.

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