New AMR technology drops repeaters, concentrators

AMR Systems, developer of a patented bi-directional wireless network for low cost meter reading applications, has an innovative approach to residential AMR that eliminates expensive repeaters and concentrators. The system also carries usage data from the meter to the central billing office without dependence on public telecommunication networks, drive-by, or parabolic antennae. 

Created in the 1990s with seed money from an investment fund of Spain’s largest utility companies (Iberdrola, Gas Natural, Aguas de Barcelona, and Telefonica) the AMR Systems network mirrors the Internet. The units, each smaller than a cigarette carton, act as routers in an interconnected web that can carry signals through a series of small hops using the license-free Industrial, Scientific, and Medical (ISM) radio frequency. “This system is optimised for high density residential applications,” says Mario Comas, founder and CEO. 

This architecture gives the network a high degree of reliability – if there is a problem in any link, the system routes itself around that link automatically. The smallest units can be embedded in one meter or support up to 4 meters externally, and are battery-powered with a life of 10 years. The larger units can manage groups of 1,000 meters, sending data to a central server every 15 minutes. The entire system is independent of public networks.

“We approached the meter reading system as a data networking problem, not as an overlay to a utility model. Rather than one-way pipes that run from small points to bigger points, we created a flexible, bi-directional, self-routing (ad-hoc) network.” 

Another benefit of the system is interoperability. “We didn’t believe in proprietary systems that lock out others,” says Comas. “Our product is designed to interface with any meter output, any management and billing input, and any data format.” Using the robust Unix operating system and RDBMS database platform, with XML data labels and TCP/IP protocols, the system is a model of openness in an industry with dozens of competing proprietary standards.

AMR Systems is currently in discussions with an Asian group to build a pilot for a provincial network embedded in customised meters. The potential project in Asia would mark the first large scale pilot of the system in that continent. “This could be a major opportunity for us, unlocking a huge potential market,” says Comas. Re-engineering was required to adapt the original specifications, based on European standards, to comply with the spectrum allocation laws of Asia. Now AMR Systems has systems suitable for both continents, and is working toward FCC approval for the US market.