Wireless AMR network design considerations

Most new utility meters are capable of automated meter reading or automated meter infrastructure (controlling).  Before embarking on a project to implement a wireless AMR or AMI network, you need to do extensive due diligence on the vendors’ meters. Ideally, all municipalities would enjoy blanket radio or RF coverage to listen and manage all of their utility meters. But the fact is most cities are already developed and building such infrastructure would require replacing or augmenting all meters. Some municipalities cannot afford to upgrade all utility meters at the same time and therefore can focus only on one utility at a time, e.g. water or electric. Most municipalities want to have the same vendor for both electric and water utility meters.

Here are a few questions you should ask the vendors (including your existing vendor if you are considering an upgrade):

  • How long will the radio last? (if it is a water meter, it is likely to be battery operated)
  • What frequency do the radios operate on? The municipality may have (or want) other services such as wireless video surveillance operating at or near the frequencies in which the utility meters are using.
  • Can the frequencies be changed?
  • What type of modulations are they using?
  • Can you retrofit a radio or attach a radio-type appendage to an existing water/gas/electric meter?
  • Is it possible to read other vendor’s utility meters?

This last question is important to understand. For example, let’s assume all of your water meters are made by Badger (a vendor of meters) and all your electric meters are by Itron.  Somewhere you will have a gateway or collector to read or listen to all the Badger meters. The problem is that the Badger collector or gateway which is listening and acting upon your water meters may not be collecting data from the Itron meters.

Unfortunately most vendors don’t play well with one another.  But there are other options. You can install collectors for each utility. You’ll need a collector for gas, a collector for water and finally another collector for electric. Installing a wireless mesh network makes this possible. There are vendors who make appendages which can be used to retrofit existing water, gas and electric meters. These vendors work with many utility meters. You may consider going to single vendor solution for all utilities. Doing so would ensure compatibility and reduce the number collectors and cost. Finally, you could require your preferred vendor to tailor its hardware and software to be able to read meters made by other companies. No standards exist today and getting different hardware meters to speak with one another will take a combined effort with municipalities and incumbent providers pushing for standards.

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About the author:  Doug Berman has extensive technical and professional experience in the wireless and networking industries. He has been responsible for some of the largest Wi-Fi deployments in the United States including Philadelphia, Anaheim, Oklahoma City, Miami, Chaska, Moorhead and others. His blog is at www.dougswifi.com

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