The AMR metering business in the commercial and industrial (C&I) segment has traditionally been shared between the utility, AMR system provider and meter supplier. Recently, though, some major European utilities have started to look closely at operating costs. They have raised specific concerns about meter defects and weaknesses in communication infrastructures, availability of metering data, the development costs of specific device drivers and the issues associated with AMR systems such as limited flexibility, licence costs and maintenance fees.

The utilities are demanding easy to collect, error-free metering data, with optimisation of the data retrieval process from the meter to the billing centre. They also want a shorter billing cycle, faster remote meter reading and quicker meter installation, verification and commissioning.

GPRS-BASED METER READING: RESOLVING THE IP ADDRESS ISSUE

The role of the Internet in providing low cost, high quality meter readings is undoubtedly growing. However, the issues relating to IP addressing need to be considered. A meter needs an IP address to communicate over GPRS. There are several possibilities: public, dynamic (fixed) or false addresses. Public IP addresses are expensive, but offer guaranteed access to the meter, since the utility can purchase the IP address pool that has a corporate APN (access point name) with the telecom operator. It is complicated for a server device such as an electricity meter to be based on a dynamic IP address, since the remote AMR client does not know which IP address to use for accessing the server. False IPs, common in GPRS networks, cannot be accessed via the (public) Internet; metering devices can act as servers on their sub-segment, but will not be accessible to customers beyond it. This is an issue for utilities because, unless they set-up a VPN, their private network is separate from the telecom GPRS network.

IMPROVING AMR EFFICIENCY THROUGH EVOLVING TECHNOLOGY AND OPEN STANDARDS

Meter providers and utilities agree that the solution lies in strengthening the integration level of the electricity meter into the data-for-billing supply chain, and actively promoting the use of open, standard communication protocols and interfaces. Meter suppliers like Actaris can play a more significant role in utilities’ AMR projects by:

• Being aware of the utilities’ available communications and IT infrastructure.
• Building up their own experience with wireless networks and increasing ties with leading telecoms companies – Actaris’ partnership with Vodafone Sweden is one example.
• Understanding the utilities’ meter reading processes.
• Providing tools and software applications to integrate the communicating meter as the first link of the data-forbilling supply chain.

ACTARIS’ SOLUTION

Actaris is meeting utilities’ requirements by supporting and promoting the DLMS/COSEM protocol (EN 62056- standard) for C&I meter data exchange. In addition we are increasing value-added services in AMR system projects, integrating a meter and communication solution into the utility data supply chain. The DLMS/COSEM protocol can already address new profiles for native support by TCP/IP meters for wired and wireless IP networks (GPRS). The goal is for the metering points to become IP devices. A new meter communication model developed by Actaris moves away from the traditional outbound call model to inbound metering devices pushing XML messages. This eliminates the need for bulk collection, solves the IP addressing issue described earlier, rationalises use of the available bandwidth and simplifies and strengthens the data collection process for utility back offices.

We are continuing to develop a native extension of COSEM over TCP/IP networks in meters to facilitate integration into IP LANs, and will be offering an effective solution for deploying outbound communicating meters in GPRS networks. Actaris is also looking to build on its core experience to address new metering technology fields such as IP networking and wireless communications.