Using Wi-Fi for automated meter reading (AMR)

Automated meter reading (AMR) is often cited as one application for municipal wireless networks, since it represents a potential opportunity for cities to improve the operational efficiency and customer service of city-owned utilities by automating the manual process of sending a meter reader to every house in town every month or two.Automated meter reading (AMR) is often cited as one application for municipal wireless networks, since it represents a potential opportunity for cities to improve the operational efficiency and customer service of city-owned utilities by automating the manual process of sending a meter reader to every house in town every month or two.

Municipal Utilities

Most municipalities own and operate water utilities, and many also own electric or gas utilities. In order to bill customers for their use of water, gas or electricity, utilities historically have sent an employee to read meters located on each customer’s property every month or two, but AMR is changing that. With an AMR system, the utility is able to remotely read each meter, either from the vicinity of the meter (walk-by or drive-by systems), or from a central location (powerline or radio systems). The good news is that AMR allows meters to be read more efficiently, and many AMR systems can provide meter readings much more often than monthly. So utilities need fewer employees to accomplish the work, and the enhanced meter information can facilitate better customer service and support improved system operations. The bad news is that AMR systems cost money to implement, and it takes a number of years to pay back that investment. If a city has a municipal Wi-Fi network, some reduction in the initial cost of an AMR system may be possible, and in the future, a prevalence of community-wide Wi-Fi networks could help to significantly reduce installation and operation costs of AMR systems.

AMR Systems

AMR systems generally consist of three components: (1) meters to measure how much each customer uses, along with a Meter Interface Unit (MIU) to connect it to the AMR system, (2) telecommunications to transfer the data from the meter to the utility, and (3) computers and software at the utility to analyze the data and use it to bill customers. The most expensive component of an AMR system is the first one, including both the cost of the meter and/or MIU, along with the cost of labor to install the equipment at each customer property. Meter manufacturers and AMR system vendors offer proprietary systems that are generally not interoperable; so the selection of one AMR vendor limits options for the use of other vendors’ equipment.

Meters

In order to use an AMR system, utility meters must incorporate a Meter Interface Unit (MIU) that captures the raw data from the meter and puts it into a format that can be transmitted to the AMR system. New meters may generally be ordered from manufacturers with the MIU already installed, but older existing meters must be retro-fitted or replaced. Electric meters always have electricity available to power the MIU, but water and gas meters need battery-powered MIU’s to function. Product life is generally projected to be between 10 and 20 years, governed by the life of the battery and advancement of the technology (that is, you may want to replace it before it wears out if newer technology has features that make it worth upgrading).

Telecommunications

Some type of telecommunications system is necessary to transfer the data in the meter to the central utility computer systems, and these systems may be wired or wireless. Most AMR systems are one-way, with meter data communicated to the utility, but some AMR systems provide two-way communication to allow polling of the meter and/or remote reprogramming of the MIU.

Wired AMR systems include telephone, cable, fiberoptic and powerline. With the increasing use of cellular telephones and satellite television, telephone and cable systems have become impractical for AMR since they don’t serve every property that has a meter. As a result, wired systems now use either fiberoptics or powerlines to communicate the meter data to the utility. These applications are limited to situations where a fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) or electric utility infrastructure is available to use.

Wireless AMR systems are offered by a number of AMR vendors, with proprietary radio infrastructures and equipment dedicated only to the AMR system. In a typical wireless AMR system, each meter communicates with some type of data concentrator, and that concentrator in turn transmits the accumulated meter data to the central utility computer system through high-speed wired or wireless backhaul. While AMR vendors have begun to offer systems capable of using municipal Wi-Fi networks for backhaul of AMR data, IP addressable meters and MIUs are generally not available except for some more expensive electric meters.

The Future

AMR systems that are capable of using a municipal Wi-Fi network can avoid the installation and/or operational expense of another backhaul network for the AMR data. In the future, Wi-Fi enabled MIUs could use a municipal Wi-Fi network to allow each meter to communicate directly to the utility’s central data processing center, avoiding the entire cost of establishing a telecommunications system dedicated only to AMR. Even more promising, if each meter MIU were Wi-Fi compatible, the utility might be able to purchase AMR equipment from a variety of different meter/MIU manufacturers, encouraging additional competition in the supply chain of both the meter and the AMR system.

AMR and municipal Wi-Fi offer potential synergies that may change the financial evaluation of both technologies.

– – – – –

About the author
John Kelly is Principal of the Kelly Group, a utility and energy services consulting firm. John has over 20 years experience with water, gas and electric utilities, including Automatic Meter Reading, customer information systems and billing, conservation programs, customer service and business development. He is a member of the Public Policy Committee of the Automatic Meter Reading Association and Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Geothermal Heat Pump Consortium, a non-profit corporation whose mission is to promote the utilization of geothermal heat pumps. John has a degree in engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy and a Masters in Public Administration from the University of Colorado, and is a registered professional engineer in Colorado and New Mexico. For more information, email him at jkelly@usa.net.

Comments

  1. Giancarlo says:

    Rather than a Wi-Fi 802.11b/g solution, that may potentially conflict with residential and/or commercial 2.4GHz Wi-Fi systems and other public and/or private “HOT SPOTS”. There are products in the market that are Advanced Multi-Function Meters with built-in Ethernet TCP/IP. It may be more ideal and a wise choice for utilities companies to deploy their own NON Wi-Fi system. The Utility Company can build their own, a private RF Broadband network (other than Wi-Fi) to monitor AMR networks, or work in tandem with Municipalities and/or WISP/ISP’s to deploy an IP based monitoring systems. By utilizing a private system versus a common protocol Wi-Fi network(s), allows for connection sustainability and the QoS required by the Utility Company.

  2. Alvin Randall, Jr. says:

    We are entering into both environment, WI-FI and AMR. I would like more data since are in the beginning deployment to help mw make the right choices. We am using Cisco wireless equipment, Itron on the electric commercial side and Sensus on the water side and residential electric side. Your comment is very interesting would like to explore it more.

  3. I´d like to know more technical information about ARM suchs a: economical benefits, revenues, initial costs,
    Furthermore, If ti were possible you coul tell me the kind of meter’s vendor that are in the market.

    Sincerely ..
    Eddy Abril

  4. I´d like to know some information related to ARM tecnologies such as prices of the different kind of meters. Furthermore, cost of instalation of AMR
    Maybe you could help with information at this respect or even more you could tell in what web sites I can review this information also papers and publications

  5. Bill Melendez says:

    I agree with John Kelly in that a WiFi based AMR system would be more cost effective as to the infrastructure but not necessarily as to the AMR system. As an AMR Product Developer and CEO of a ZigBee based systems company, I can tell you that the only current solution is a hybrid with a WiFi interconnecting gateway. There are plenty of lowcost WiFi bridges or modems that take RS232 data out and resend as WiFi 2.4GHZ for mere dollars. The AMR system is high, not because radio modules are high, but because the price normally includes the meter, software, support, and almost anything else that gets tagged onto the sticker price.

    Feel free to respond to me at txguy5199@yahoo.com

  6. we are interested in zigbee based AMR System at Meter interface level & after collection of data from the meters,we want to transmit this accumulated data from the concentrator ,using Wi-Fi back-haul, for implementation in Industial housing colony having 4500 Elecricity meters..

    please respond to me at : omtel@rediffmail.com

                 ...........REDDY.
    
  7. Contrary to some of the earlier comments posted on this board, there is a direct to WiFi AMI solution that does not require concentrators or other hybrid topology. An 802.11b/g device is located under-the-glass of the electric meter enabling always-on, true two-way, IP-based communication to the meter.

    If you’re building a WiFi network (or any IP broadband network for that matter) why not have AMR be one application that rides over it? Given the nature and availability of IP networks, it is difficult to rationalize building any sort of proprietary single purpose network that will only read meters…900mhz, PLC, or otherwise.

  8. i want iformation reagarding different types of meters and their prices.
    even i want to know the difference between old AMR and New AMR. can we use old AMR instead of New One.

    Regards
    Renu

  9. I want to know the difference between old AMR and New AMR. can we use old AMR instead of New One.

    Regards
    Renu

  10. I am guessing the post have not been updated here for a while..in last few mnths technologies have really matured and wifi is only a small piece of new possibilities…GPRS/CDMA are very mature in densely populated areas and cell companies give good discounts in volumes hence depending on location of meters you can embed the modems in the meters themselves and web enable them right away. Issue with wifi is its not 100% secure unless its WPA and setting up wifi is easy but is limited by radius of wifi network….so it may be good in areas cell connectivity doesnt exist…..

  11. Andreas Ginopoulos says:

    I would like to have the price for a wireless water meter system. I d like to know each epuipment’s price and the system’s whole price

  12. Jack Skhosana says:

    Can this meters work on Wimax system?

  13. AMR over municipal Wi-Fi is deployed and working in Corpus Christi, Texas. I have studied and written about the deployment for several years, from the original 24 mile test areas with nearly 500 meters to the 147 square mile cloud of Wi-Fi handling several thousand meters and growing.

  14. Our citywide WIFI will be up a running within 2 years. We are looking to do a conversion from our touch read systems to AMR WIFI. Our plans are to do a 10-year program for change out. We’re not sure that it wouldn’t be more benefical to deploy a Utility only WIFI. Any thoughts?

  15. Allen,

    Please check the comments to this article:
    http://www.muniwireless.com/article/articleview/5889/1/23

  16. anthony mccray says:

    Hello Allen Moe,

    Have you had the opportunity to review the Corpus Christi, Texas AMR over municipal WiFi deployment? My counterpart Jeffrey King (NORTHROP GRUMMAN)is an excellant contact to discuss your questions. Jeffrey King was the Northrop Grumman principal on the Corpus Christi, Texas deployment. Here is Jeffrey’s email address:

    Email: jeffrey.king@ngc.com

    You can contact me as well

    Anthony McCray
    Technical Sales Manager
    Municipal Networks and Systems
    Northrop Grumman

    Email: anthony.mccray@ngc.com
    Office: 858-514-9868

  17. Joseph says:

    I would like to have the price for a AMR Wi-Fi system. I d like to know each epuipment’s price and the system’s whole price and where we can order for this unit.

    Thanks & regards,
    Joseph

  18. Anthony McCray says:

    Hello Joseph,

    If you require additional infromation regarding Wireless Broadband Deployment along with potential applications please contact me here:

    Anthony McCray
    Northrop Grumman Information Technology
    858-514-9868 Office
    858-229-0677 Mobile
    anthony.mccray@ngc.com Email

  19. Parlier CA says:

    You listed 68 city hotzones throughout the US (page 3). For the cities of Parlier, San Joaquin, and Sanger representing California it should be noted that these cities are running DLS-IT mesh networks. I am the CEO of DLS-IT and would appreciate that you update your listing to include who put and maintain the mesh networks for those three cities.

    Joseph De Los Santos
    CEO DLS-IT

  20. Aurel have system that could read meter water (AMR) at 434 MHZ

  21. steve wagoner says:

    Is It practical for a water utility with 5,000 customers to go to AMR? Will the initial cost ever be recovered?

  22. If you’re Municipality interested in taking on a Pilot Project which can take meter reading as well as control the water service from one central location. All without an expensive cost of repeaters and boosters contact me.

    Contact info:
    Enrique Romero
    enriqueromeromex@hotmail.com

  23. Bambang Irawan says:

    Dearv Sir,

    We need Wifi based Pre paid AMR.

    Thank You

    Regards,

    Bambang Irawan