AMI Gets Faster

May 13, 2021

How an open network connectivity standard is increasing AMI data transfer speeds

About the author:

Lowell Rust is metrology product line leader for Mueller Water Products. Rust can be reached at [email protected].

The Internet of Things (IOT) plays a significant role in enabling a fully interconnected smart city with intelligent infrastructure, services, devices and systems, to communicate with each other. There is no denying that a smart city is one that is effective in utilizing and optimizing digital technology and intelligent data in a meaningful way to streamline city operations, make informed decisions and deliver an improved quality of life.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is one component of the smart city. It enables continuous two-way communications between the network and metering devices, to accurately measure and collect data that can be used for billing, and sends customer alerts and notifications, demand-response, remote service-connections and disconnections. Smart meter deployments reduce front line operators’ exposure to environmental hazards, improving worker safety while reducing time spent in the field.

A recent notable AMI success took place in the city of Sheridan, Wyoming, where the city deployed the Mueller Mi.Net AMI system across more than 10,000 service connections. The city saw an estimated 65% decrease in labor hours and improved daily read to 99.6%.

With so many companies delivering different portions of the digital solution, it is important to ensure municipalities have an open standards-based solution. This means that any solution a utility implements must be able to share data or inter-operate with other solutions from various companies without compromising data security. For example, if you implement IoT-based metering sensors, those sensors should send data in such a way that multiple software solutions from different vendors can consume that data. Traditionally this has been difficult to accomplish due to lack of open standards like LoRa. However, IoT has brought the internet standards approach to water utilities.

Open Security Standard

Unlike application specific systems, LoRaWAN is an ideal system for smart city applications. It is designed from the ground up for lower cost by providing a long-life system with greater ease of deployment. LoRaWAN (LW) is a Low Power Wide Area Network specification (LPWAN) designed to wirelessly connect battery-operated devices to the internet in regional, national or global networks. It is designed to provide features specifically needed to support low-cost, mobile, secure bidirectional communication for IOT applications.

A key strength of LW is its ability to support large numbers of devices per gateway. Depending on the policy applied and the time allowed on the network per device each day, thousands of devices can be supported simultaneously. Assets only need to communicate their locations in order to be tracked.

The town of Florence, Arizona, became the first municipality to use the Mi.Net LW node with more than 3,000 endpoints deployed across the town. This deployment was a significant step taken for the town to fulfill its comprehensive smart city agenda for infrastructure and connectivity advancement.

“The deployment of smart meters is accelerating our journey toward digital transformation and the foundation required to build out our smart city grid,” said Brent Billingsley, town manager of Florence. “We are confident that this open source network solution will provide new operational efficiencies, enhanced service opportunities and additional revenue streams.”

A big part of being a smart city is the use of streamlining processes to improve operations. For water utilities and municipalities, the ability to eliminate the need for truck rolls can dramatically reduce costs. The Mi.Net LW node has the built-in capability to seamlessly connect with Mueller Systems Model 420 RDM (Remote Disconnect Meter) that allows easy and secure remote valve actuation to turn water service on or off.

For operations to go uninterrupted, the Mi.Net LW node is powered by a lithium battery that provides an abundance of power and warrants a 20-year life inside the meter pit.

LW Class B Specification

A new boost in communication speed has been added as an industry first with the LoRaWAN Class B specification used in the Mi.Net LW node. The Mi.Net LW Class B node is designed to support the digital transformation of smart water metering operations by helping water utilities go beyond automated reading to improve utility efficiency with AMI, based on an LPWAN protocol.

This makes the Mi.Net LW Class B Node a solution in the water metering industry that delivers fast two-way wireless communication with a high degree of flexibility for long-term deployment – all without shortening its battery lifespan. It permits on-demand data to be collected and transmitted remotely within seconds. Besides consumption data, alerts such as leak detection, no flow, reverse flow and register tampering are constantly monitored.

Scalable Sustainability

Utilities and municipalities are constantly challenged to meet public demand for efficiency, optimized resources, reduced cost and consumption – all without compromising quality of customer service. However, any new technology adds a new line item for an already-tight budget.

AMI solutions are scalable, allowing utilities to implement the system in stages depending on their budgets and requirements. As a community grows, the flexible system can be easily adjusted to accommodate new customers. AMI can be carefully tailored to the needs of a utility, reaching new levels of efficiency when compared with the one-size-fits-all approach of manual meter reading.

AMI solutions are comprehensive, fully automate the meter reading, billing and data collection processes, and pave a path to long-term sustainability. Every node on the system is connected, with meters and control devices linked in a single data network.

This level of integration makes it easy to organize and analyze data, helping utilities to draw insights and effectively streamline operations. Over time, the system pays for itself through the money saved by delivering services more effectively and spending less time rolling trucks to perform drive-by meter reading.


Network Connectivity is the Core

Smart cities connect disparate endpoints for water metering, street lighting, air quality monitoring, and bin emptying, to name a few examples. The network infrastructure and the data handling are largely the same, so it is not necessary to reinvent the wheel every time smart cities look to connect a new endpoint. What they have in common is a need for secure, available and cost-effective connectivity, which is why so many municipalities use LoRaWAN.

About the Author

Lowell Rust