By Kevin Price

With governments across Europe bringing in legislation to drive utility companies towards Smart Metering and consumers in a credit crunch trying to reduce household bills, now is the most likely time that a consolidated system could be chosen. Across Europe there are in excess of 100 million electricity meters; add to these gas and water and the whole network is daunting.

Over the past few years many versions have been tried and due to the diversity of the utility supplier base, and not least the costs of implementation, no single version is dominating. The options are endless but can be categorised into four areas.

Network based: The metering information utilises the Internet via a LAN system this requires that the meter information is collected then sent via a broadband router to a collecting web site. The cost of implementing this depends on the availability of Internet hardware at each location. The cost of carrying this information is low but the hardware is high.

Wifi based: The meter has a short range transceiver which can send the information up to 1km; this can then be collected at either a web server or via a base or mobile station. In this case the hardware is lower cost and the carrier costs are lower. In both of the above infrastructure will need to be put in place for the system to operate.

GSM based: In this version the existing mobile phone network is used so no infrastructure is required beyond that already available, the only requirement is the addition of a small modem to the metering point. With the costs of modems falling and the carrier costs based on small data packets, both hardware and software are very low.

The popularity of the GSM based system is increasing at a phenomenal rate. We have seen a doubling of enquires on a monthly basis. Not just for metering but many industrial and commercial projects from Telemetry, Medical and Automotive. Clearly this adoption will drive costs lower.

Flexibility is the key as once the information is on the GSM network it can be received and processed at any point in the world and on any network connected. The future could see consumers controlling their homes from work or while on holiday. Integration of household security systems, direct bill paying and even live video feeds are all possible.

Currently there are in excess of 30million modems deployed across Europe. The cost of a modem like the SIM340E GSM/GPRS with integrated SIM card holder has reduced below the $30 mark and air time of around 0.05 euro per minute is possible.

The old adage ‘why re-invent the wheel’ comes to mind, GSM modems are recognised by the carriers to be a larger market than mobile phones. Already moves are being made to release the current 2G network for telemetry use. With an established network, lower investment costs and product availability, then the obvious step is to use this system.