Automatic Meter Reading
Automatic meter reading, or AMR, is the technology of automatically
collecting consumption, diagnostic, and status data from water meter or energy
metering devices (water, gas, electric) and transferring that data to a central
database for billing, troubleshooting, and analyzing.
This advance mainly saves utility providers the
expense of periodic trips to each physical location to
read a meter. Another advantage is billing can be
based on near real time consumption rather than on
estimates based on previous or predicted
consumption. This timely information coupled with
analysis, can help both utility providers and
customers better control the use and production of
Example of a smart meter in use in electric energy, gas usage, or water consumption.
Europe that has the ability to reduce
load, disconnect-reconnect remotely,
and interface to gas & water meters.
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AMR technologies include handheld, mobile and network technologies based on
telephony platforms (wired and wireless), radio frequency (RF), or powerline
With touch based AMR, a meter reader carries a
handheld computer or data collection device with
a wand or probe.
The device automatically collects the readings
from a meter by touching or placing the read
probe in close proximity to a reading coil enclosed
in the touchpad.
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When a button is pressed, the probe sends an
interrogate signal to the touch module to collect
the meter reading.
The software in the device matches the serial
number to one in the route database, and saves
the meter reading for later download to a billing
or data collection computer.
Since the meter reader still has to go to the site
of the meter, this is sometimes referred to as
A typical residential
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Radio frequency network
Radio frequency based AMR can take many forms.
The more common ones are handheld, mobile, and fixed network.
There are both two-way RF systems and one-way RF systems in use that use both
licensed and unlicensed RF bands.
In a two-way or "wake up" system, a radio transceiver normally sends a signal to a
particular transmitter serial number, telling it to wake up from a resting state and
transmit its data.
The meter attached transceiver and the reading transceiver both send and receive
radio signals and data.
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Radio frequency network
In a one-way “bubble-up” or continuous broadcast type system, the transmitter
broadcasts readings continuously every few seconds. This means the reading
device can be a receiver only, and the meter AMR device a transmitter only.
Data goes one way, from the meter AMR transmitter to the meter reading receiver.
There are also hybrid systems that combine one-way and two-way technologies,
using one-way communication for reading and two way communication for
RF based meter reading usually eliminates the need for the meter reader to enter
the property or home, or to locate and open an underground meter pit.
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Radio frequency network
The utility saves money by increased speed of reading, has lower liability from
entering private property, and has less chance of missing reads because of being
locked out from meter access.
The technology based on RF is not readily accepted everywhere.
In several Asian countries the technology faces a barrier of regulations in place
pertaining to use of the radio frequency of any radiated power.
For example in India the radio frequency which is generally in ISM band is not free
to use even for low power radio of 10 mW.
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Radio frequency network
The majority of manufacturers of electricity meters have radio frequency devices in
the frequency band of 433/868 MHz for large scale deployment in European
The frequency band of 2.4 GHz can be now used in India for outdoor as well as
indoor applications but few maufacturers have shown products within this
Initiatives in radio frequency AMR in such countries are being taken up with
regulators wherever the cost of licensing outweighs the benefits of AMR.
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In handheld AMR, a meter reader carries a handheld computer with a built-in or
attached receiver/transceiver (radio frequency or touch) to collect meter readings
from an AMR capable meter.
This is sometimes referred to as "walk-by" meter reading since the meter reader
walks by the locations where meters are installed as they go through their meter
Handheld computers may also be used to manually enter readings without the use
of AMR technology as an alternate but this will not support exhaustive data which
can be accurately read using the meter reading electronically.
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Mobile or "drive-by" meter reading is where a reading device is installed in a
The meter reader drives the vehicle while the reading device automatically
collects the meter readings.
A typical water meter register
showing a meter reading of 8.3
gallons. Notice the black "1" on
the odometer has not yet fully
turned over, so the red hand is
read in its place
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Often for mobile meter reading the reading equipment includes navigational and
mapping features provided by GPS and mapping software.
With mobile meter reading, the reader does not normally have to read the meters
in any particular route order, but just drives the service area until all meters are
Components often consist of a laptop
or proprietary computer, software, RF
receiver/transceiver, and external
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Fixed Network AMR is a method where a network is permanently installed to
capture meter readings.
This method can consist of a series of antennas, towers, collectors,
repeaters, or other permanently installed infrastructure to collect
transmissions of meter readings from AMR capable meters and get the data
to a central computer without a person in the field to collect it.
There are several types of network topologies in use to get the meter data
back to a central computer.
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A star network is the most common, where a meter transmits its data to a
central collector or repeater.
Some systems use only collectors which receive and store data for processing.
Others also use a repeater which forwards a reading from a more remote area
back to a main collector without actually storing it.
A repeater may be forwarded by RF signal or sometimes is converted to a
wired network such as telephone or IP network to get the data back to a
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Some manufacturers are developing mesh networks where meters
themselves act as repeaters passing the data to nearby meters until it makes
it to a main collector.
The Swedish city of Gothenburg is having their electric meters connected in
this manner, using the ZigBee protocol.
A mesh network may save the infrastructure of many collection points, but is
more data intensive on the meters.
One issue with mesh networks it that battery operated ones may need more
power for the increased frequency of transmitting.
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It also requires that the meter devices be receivers as well as transmitters
potentially making individual transceiver cost higher.
However, the additional cost may be outweighed by the savings of multiple
collectors and repeater antennas and finding places to mount them.
Some fixed network systems are also capable of being installed as a hybrid
AMR system where mobile and fixed network are intermixed by design.
In a hybrid system, part of the system is read by fixed network, and parts
may read by mobile or other technology, or both.
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Utilities with low density rural areas may not cost justify the fixed network
infrastructure for parts of their service area, using it only for higher density zones
or commercial accounts.
Some hybrid networks allow reading of a meter by both methods concurrently as a
source of redundancy.
In the event of a failure of the network due a natural disaster, sabotage, power
failure, or other network interruption, the mobile reading system is available in their
disaster recovery plan as an alternative means of data collection to the fixed
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RF technologies commonly used for AMR
Narrow Band (single fixed radio frequency)
Direct-sequence spread spectrum (DSSS)
Frequency-hopping spread spectrum (FHSS)
There are also meters using AMR with RF technologies such as cellular phone data
systems, zigbee, bluetooth, Wavenis and others.
Some systems operate with FCC licensed frequencies and others under FCC Part 15
which allows use of unlicensed radio frequencies.
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The city of Corpus Christi became one of the first cities in the United States to
implement city wide Wi Fi, which had been free until May 31, 2007, mainly to
facilitate AMR after a meter reader was attacked by a dog.
Today many meters are designed to transmit using Wi Fi, even if a Wi Fi network is
not available, and they are read using a drive-by local Wi Fi hand held receiver.
The meters installed in Corpus Christi are not directly Wi-Fi enabled, but rather
transmit narrow-band burst telemetry on the 460 MHz band.
This narrow-banded signal has a much greater range than Wi-Fi, so the number of
receivers required for the project are far fewer than the number of Wi-Fi access
points covering the same area.
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These special receiver stations then take in the narrow-band signal and
report their data via Wi-Fi.
Most of the automated utility meters installed in the Corpus Christi area are
Compared to narrow-band burst telemetry, Wi-Fi technology uses far too
much power for long-term battery-powered operation.
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Power line communication
(PLC) AMR is a method where electronic data is transmitted over power
lines back to the substation, then relayed to a central computer in the
utility's main office.
This would be considered a type of fixed network system—the network
being the distribution network which the utility has built and maintains to
deliver electric power.
Such systems are primarily used for electric meter reading.
Some providers have interfaced gas and water meters to feed into a PLC
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Benefits of Advanced Metering
Advanced Metering systems can provide benefits for utilities, retail
providers and customers.
Benefits will be recognized by the utilities with increased efficiencies,
outage detection, tamper notification and reduced labor cost as a result of
automating reads, connections and disconnects.
Retail Providers will be able to offer new innovative products in addition to
customizing packages for their customers.
In addition, with the meter data being readily available, more flexible billing
cycles would be available to their customers instead of following the
standard utility read cycles.
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Benefits of Advanced Metering
With timely usage information available to the customer, benefits will be seen
through opportunities to manage their energy consumption and change from one
REP to another with actual meter data.
The benefits of smart metering are clear and proven.
Accurate meter reading, no more estimates
Accurate Profile Classes and Measurement Classes, true costs applied
Improved Security for premises
Energy Management through profile data graphs
Less financial burden correcting mistakes
Less accrued expenditure
Less time chasing call centers to provide meter readings
Transparency of “cost to read” metering
Improved procurement power though more accurate data - “de-risking” price
Many companies are moving towards complete AMR solutions.
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Construction practices, weather, and the need for information drive utilities
in different parts of the world towards AMR at different rates. In the US,
there have been significant fixed network deployments of both RF based
and PLC based technologies. Some countries have either deployed or plan
to deploy AMR systems throughout the entire country.
Australia AMI in Australia has grown from both government policy, seeking
to rectify observed market inefficiencies and distribution businesses,
seeking to gain operational efficiencies. Currently (July 2008), there is a
mandated program being planned in Victoria with a planned deployment of
2.6 million meters over a 4 year period. The anticipated peak installation
rate of AMI Meters is 5,000 per day across Victoria. The program
governance is provided by an Industry Steering Committee.
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