Automatic meter reading, or AMR, is the technology of automatically collecting consumption, diagnostic, and status data from water meter or energy metering devices (gas, electric) and transferring that data to a central database for billing, troubleshooting, and analyzing. This technology mainly saves utility providers the expense of periodic trips to each physical location to read a meter. Another advantage is that billing can be based on near real-time consumption rather than on estimates based on past or predicted consumption. This timely information coupled with analysis can help both utility providers and customers better control the use and production of electric energy, gas usage, or water consumption.
AMR technologies include handheld, mobile and network technologies based on telephony platforms (wired and wireless), radio frequency (RF), or powerline transmission.
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. 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 “on-site” AMR. Another form of contact reader uses a standardized infrared port to transmit data. Protocols are standardized between manufacturers by such documents as ANSI C12.18 or IEC 61107.
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. 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 programming functions.
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. 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 mV. 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 countries. The frequency band of 2.4 GHz can be now used in India for outdoor as well as indoor applications but few manufacturers have shown products within this frequency band. Initiatives in radio frequency AMR in such countries are being taken up with regulators wherever the cost of licensing outweighs the benefits of AMR.
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 reading route. 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.