Because you’re not paying data charges for each meter in a mesh network, operating costs for an RF mesh network are much lower than they are for a cellular network. But it would be best if you were careful when evaluating the total cost of cellular vs. RF mesh, as the lower operating costs of RF mesh will likely be offset by costs elsewhere in the system. The need to have your own technical teams to perform maintenance and repairs on an RF mesh network is one such cost. Network planning is another.
Because each meter in a cellular implementation is connected directly to the cellular network, implementation is effectively plug-and-play.”
You install a connected meter or retrofit an existing one, and the energy meter is automatically commissioned and added to the interconnected, Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI). This means that initial deployment is relatively inexpensive, and projects can quickly be done in phases. There are no inherent limitations on the number of meters that can be added to the system or where the physical meter need to be related.
On the other hand, RF mesh networks often require careful network planning, especially concerning the density of nodes (light fixtures) and the placement of gateways. Energy meters are typically about 50 m (160 ft) apart. The maximum node-to-node distance for RF communications is about 300 m (1000 ft), so the range is sufficient for urban areas where meters are installed close together, but you have to think upfront about how each mesh will be able to connect to a gateway. For these reasons, initial implementation costs for RF mesh networks may be higher than for cellular networks, even if operational costs are lower.
Cellular communications range over a much larger distance than RF mesh communications—up to 100 km (approximately 60 miles) or over 300 times farther. Because of this long range, cellular networks lend themselves to implementations that cover large geographical areas, whether that’s a large municipality with many urban neighborhoods spread over a distance of several hundred square miles, as in a city like Mumbai, or implementations that combine suburban and rural automated metering infrastructure.