Smart Metering Communication

Selection of smart metering solutions can be a daunting task. This is because the past few years have seen a complete evolution of customer tech service needs, values, and attitudes towards what the word ‘smart’ means when applied to technology. In the past, the bar for calling a metering device was low, and customers were comfortable with a device that updated readings after a few days, or hours. However, this is no longer the case, and today near-real-time data feedback of smart metering devices is required.

Today, utilities have to collect consumption data and load profile real-time. This is to enable them to manage demand response and carry out analysis at short intervals when needed.

For utilities, smart metering is a crucial component of energy conservation efforts, energy consumption forecasting to balance demand and supply, improving customer satisfaction and providing the insights to optimize grid infrastructure.

Choosing Connectivity

Smart metering is all about communications that rely on a secure and flexible bi-directional communications infrastructure built on top of existing assets. Meters rely on a gateway to transmit data to the cloud. Meters typically transmit data to a local smart meter gateway, which aggregates data from all meters in an area and then forwards it to a cloud platform that providers and customers can access to monitor consumption data.

In transmitting data, one must consider which network technology would fit best to provide communication between field devices and cloud servers. Cellular networks are ideal for smart metering in terms of the bandwidth provided. For devices that are typically deployed underground or in dense buildings, signal penetration is important due to the presence of many obstructions around. Network technology should operate in a variety of locations, where access is restrained or where meters are underground.

Eclipse smart LTE-M modems in this respect are the perfect answer to all these requirements with deep signal penetration capabilities. What is more, reading meters at remote places or where there is no mains requires battery powered and not rechargeable reading. And that means your connectivity solution can’t consume too much power. Network technologies such as Wi-Fi that are not designed for IoT will consume far more power and the battery will not last long. Cat M1 is a low-cost low-power wide-area network (LPWAN) cellular technology designed specifically for Internet of Things projects (IoT). Smart metering gateways can last for years with Power Saving Mode (PSM) and Discontinuous Reception (DRX) of LTE-M.

Using CAT M1 modems in smart metering projects also provides compatibility with most cellular technologies available today. This includes most carriers in Europe and North America such as Verizon and AT&T, allowing users to use the technology without the need for personalized antennas. Cat M1 modems provide a bandwidth of 1.4Mhz, download peak rate of 1Mbps, upload peak rate of 1Mbps and can run on both full-duplex and half-duplex transmissions.

Smart Metering Data Protocols

At the network layer to communicate with a gateway, meters may either use wireless connections such as Radio Frequency (RF) or wired connection such as Serial ports (RS-232, RS-485 etc) to build the field area network (FAN).

At the application layer energy meters use data communication protocols. Smart meters don’t all use the same protocols to communicate, and the standards often vary by region. There are several protocols utilities should be familiar with, such as

For electricity metering

  • IEC1107
  • Euridis
  • Power Line Communication-PLC
  • Modbus

 For water and gas metering

  • M-Bus
  • Open Metering System (OMS)
  • Modbus

For selection of communication infrastructure, one of the factors to consider in smart metering implementations is the topology of the meters. Most electricity, water and gas meters are widespread in urban areas with very high density. Some are outdoor devices scattered in a large area and some are relatively close to each other in apartment blocks or they are in situations where they can’t be read wirelessly. It is important to select the right smart metering infrastructure that will meet topology requirements.

M-Bus is a recommended protocol in urban area networks for data collection from water and gas smart meters. Wireless M-Bus stands out by the quality of its radio coverage, the ease with which it can be combined with other technologies, and the simplicity of its equipment deployments. 

RS485 is an industrial standard for point-to-point communication that allows you to do long-distance cabling, even in areas with noisy environments.

RF mesh networks comprise nodes capable of dynamically establishing links to several nodes. This offers great flexibility in urban environments where there are many objects that influence radio frequency signal propagation. In point-to-multipoint network topology will have less noise compared to mesh network where meters can communicate with collector modem.

Eclipse modems collect meter data via standard protocols. Depending on your use case, Eclipse offers a wide spectrum of meter reading protocols DLMS/COSEM, Euridis, Modbus, M-Bus, wM-Bus, RF, RS-232 and/or RS-485 etc. At the application layer, Eclipse also supports a wide variety of protocols such as MQTT, CoAP, HTTP, UDP/IP, TCP/IP etc to transport data to back-end systems such as MDM (Meter Data Management) Systems.

Eclipse LTE-M Modems have integrated and powerful communication firmware that is responsible for all the data processing and meter recognition. It is customizable and able to adapt to different reading standards, meter brands, models, data processing scenarios that can be requested by Smart Metering and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) Systems.

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