Latest firmware upgrade: improved comms, Modbus and stability

Upgrade image ex Canva for Wattwatchers blog post on firmware release

With the full release of a broad-based upgrade of the core Wattwatchers firmware now imminent, Wattwatchers’ Chief Innovation Officer, Grace Young, fills us in on the key aspects of the upgrade, for partners and customers.

GRACE YOUNG: CHIEF INNOVATION OFFICER

Over the next few months Wattwatchers will be performing an upgrade that, if all goes to plan, most of you won’t even notice. But the upgrade will provide welcome improvements to our devices’ performance, and some subtle, yet significant, changes to the way our devices interact with the 4G cellular network.

We are upgrading the fleet of Wattwatchers devices to a new firmware version, 48.0.0. Currently in limited beta testing ahead of its wider release, this is our most robust and stable firmware version ever. The full rollout will be staged and managed by Wattwatchers, and is expected to be complete—with all online devices updated—by December 2022.

A majority of the changes are bug fixes and improvements to how our devices communicate, and many of these reduce the number of situations where a device needs to reboot. There are also improvements to the stability of Modbus communications.

The 48.0.0 release provides more than just good technology housekeeping. It’s our continuous improvement program in action, helping to future-proof 4G-enabled devices for the planned shutdown of 3G networks in Australia and internationally in the coming years.

Key features & changes

The main changes you can expect when your devices are upgraded are:

  • Optimisations to 4G network selection and handling of reconnections after cellular network dropouts (more information below)
  • Improvements to DNS resolution and update frequency (faster ‘time to live’)
  • Changes to reporting of signal quality
    • Reflected in Wattwatchers’ Onboarding and Fleet apps
    • More frequent reporting of changes to cellular connectivity parameters
  • More robust Modbus device detection and connectivity (for Auditor 6M+One and customised 6M+MB devices)
  • Reductions in the number of conditions that cause a reboot
  • Improvements to shutdown performance
  • Additional ‘bug fixes’ and stability improvements

What to watch out for

There are two significant changes that you’ll need to be aware of, relating to the optimisations to 4G network selection.

For 4G-capable devices (typically denoted by device serial numbers starting with ‘DD’), the updated firmware will now prioritise 4G networks, if they are available to the device. That is, if both 4G and 3G networks are available, the 4G network will be selected if a stable connection can be achieved. This will occur even if the signal quality of the 3G network is stronger in the area where the device is installed. Only if a stable 4G connection cannot be established will the devices resort to selecting the 3G network.

You may notice a change to the network that a particular device has previously connected to. For example, a device that in the past has connected to Vodafone may now connect to an alternate network, like Optus or Telstra. Or vice versa.

We have also updated the way that we calculate and report Signal Quality, to be more in line with industry standards. This will affect the Signal Quality reported in our Onboarding and Fleet tools (more on this below).

As such, you may notice changes in the Signal Quality reported by the device. In our beta testing we have noticed that the Signal Quality for 4G may be lower than previously reported on 3G, but with solid communications still being established between the device and our Mercury server infrastructure.

Please note that access to cellular networks is dependent on many factors designed to maintain the health of the overall network. For example, factors such as network congestion, link quality, and available frequencies can differ throughout the day. As a result, the automatic selection of 3G or 4G is negotiated between each individual device and the network. Most importantly, each device will communicate across 3G or 4G in a manner that offers the best end-to-end service with the least opportunity for data interruption.

The upshot? If there are no signal quality warnings (see below), this does not require any action.

Additional information in our toolkit

Coinciding with the release of 48.0.0, we will be providing some additional information in the Onboarding and Fleet Management web applications. This reflects our ethos to provide you with more information to help you better understand and manage your device fleet.

You will now be able to see the Cellular Mode that a device is currently in (3G or 4G) in addition to the capability of the modem.

The Firmware Version will also be listed in both the Onboarding and Fleet Management tools.

Both Onboarding and Fleet Management have also been updated to support the improved Signal Quality implementation (mentioned above).

As a result of these changes, devices that report a ‘Low’ signal quality will no longer report this as an error. Only devices that have a ‘Poor’ signal quality will be flagged for further action in the Onboarding tool (e.g. installation of an external booster antenna).

Just to reiterate: If you don’t see an alert and the device is communicating data ok, there is nothing that you need to do.

FAQs

Do I need to make any preparations for the firmware release?

No. Apart from being aware that it is happening by the end of December 2022, with Wattwatchers coordinating the rollout to the full fleet of ‘live’ devices.

When will I know my device or devices have been upgraded to 48.0.0?

The device firmware version is now reported in the Onboarding and Fleet Management web applications. So you will be able to see which devices are running the firmware within these tools.

Can I ask for an expedited update?

No. The staging of the rollout across many thousands of devices and users is being managed by Wattwatchers and we are not able to respond to individual requests. If a support request is received where there is a potential the new firmware will be of assistance, the Wattwatchers support team may elect to bring the update of firmware forward.

Can I request that my device not be upgraded, or be upgraded in a particular time window?

Please contact your account manager if you have specific requirements that we need to consider before upgrading your devices.

How long does the upgrade process take for each device?

For devices that are properly communicating with our systems, the device will be updated within a minute of the request being made. Usually, the upgrade process itself takes less than a minute, but the overall process, including rebooting and re-establishing server connections may take up to 5 minutes. 

Will the device lose any data during the upgrade?

During the upgrade window, when the new firmware is being installed, the device will be offline and not collecting data. You may see a skipped short energy or two, and the long energy for the 5 minute time block in which the upgrade occurs will not be captured. In the event the upgrade happens to cross the 5 minute long energy boundary, two long energy messages will not be recorded/transmitted.

What if I have an older 3G-only Wattwatchers device?

The new firmware is also designed to work also on the older 3G-only Wattwatchers devices, with many of the same optimisations being present. This may impact the network selection, as described above (but only within the available 3G networks).

What device models will be included in the firmware rollout process?

All cellular-communicating devices are covered in the rollout:

  • A6M
  • A6M+3SW
  • A6M+One
  • A6M+MB
  • A3RM
  • A3M
Are WiFi-communicating Wattwatchers devices affected by this upgrade?

No. The 48.0.0 firmware relates to cellular devices only.

What if my devices are offline or are in inventory and not currently installed?

The firmware upgrade will be queued for these devices until they connect to our systems and will automatically be completed when they are online.

What if a device or devices cannot be upgraded to 48.0.0?

Wattwatchers will closely monitor the rollout and our team will proactively deal with any ‘edge’ cases where updates fail or cannot be implemented for whatever reason. If further action is required (such as power cycling etc.) we will get in touch to discuss, if necessary.

What happens if I notice a device having issues after the upgrade?

If you find that a device is experiencing issues, and Signal Quality is Poor or intermittent, please contact Wattwatchers Support (support@wattwatchers.com.au).