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Roll over wireless, tell your meter the news.
AMR has come full circle - from industry darling to problem child and now back again to the next new thing. For this latest reincarnation, thank the Internet.
Early AMR efforts focused on how to recoup costs through lower operating expenses and more accurate usage data, but infrastructure startup costs proved a stumbling block to modernization when industry uncertainty over deregulation made companies wary of whether they'd ever see a return on their investment.
Now deregulation has matured enough to remove some uncertainties. At the same time, the Internet offers a ready technology to provide enough of a cost incentive to justify abandoning a system that's been functioning long enough to become an institution.
The Internet offers an alternative to wireless radio frequency, which has seen a lot of pilot activity but that involves an extensive initial investment. The new Internet approach utilizes existing infrastructures - shared phone lines as well as the increasingly ubiquitous cable modem and digital subscriber line, or DSL. The result is an immediate lowering of startup costs as well as truly remote data monitoring capabilities (no drive-by vans or wands).
And there's a larger incentive. Communications via Internet protocol (IP) that use home telemetry gateway with open architecture can link an entire range of services - metering, load control, appliance monitoring and home security, for example. The opportunity to spread AMR infrastructure costs across multiple applications creates an even more compelling business case for deployment.
Several different technology advances underlie these new business opportunities. They are not futuristic predictions, but established technologies that now are being applied to the home/utility market.
1. INTELLIGENT IN-HOME DEVICES. Embedded networked controllers are appearing in a variety of in-home devices including appliances, light switches, security systems and electric meters. Embedded controllers imbue these devices with added local intelligence that supports a variety of applications such as AMR, demand-side management, preventative maintenance and home automation. But this local intelligence is not application-specific. The same device (for example, a freezer) can be part of an automated electricity demand limiting application as well as being controlled by the home automation system.
2. UBIQUITOUS, LOW-COST IP CONNECTIONS. The demand for Internet services has driven IP connections to be present wherever people live and work, whether by cable modem, integrated services digital network (ISDN) or DSL. The cost of creating devices with IP connectivity also has dropped dramatically. Embedded software and embedded processor technologies have enabled full-featured IP appliances to be created for well under $200. These devices can support a variety of physical media including public switched telephone networks (PSTN), Ethernet, fiber optic and wireless. Embedded Web servers provide flexible user interfaces that can support thin-client access devices such as screen phones and set-top boxes.
3. EMBEDDED DISTRIBUTED OBJECT TECHNOLOGY. Linking 1 million or more homes to a service-provider head-end requires a powerful software and networking architecture that delivers scalable, robust communications. Distributed object technology provides this infrastructure and is a proven technology now appearing in embedded connectivity devices. A distributed object architecture also provides