Meeting the Design Challenges of Smart Metering

A smart meter is an electronic device that records and reports, via some kind of communications network, the consumption of a utility service, such as the supply of electricity, gas, water, or heating/cooling. In this whitepaper, we explore the fundamentals of smart metering and some of the benefits and challenges that come with it.


Smart meters eliminate the need for utility companies to manually read meters or provide estimated bills, and therefore have the potential to significantly reduce costs and increase customer satisfaction, while providing other benefits to be outlined later in this article. The first patents related to automatic meter reading were filed in the1970s, but it wasn’t until after the turn of the century that any kind of significant smart meter deployments really began. Within the last decade or so a few countries, including Sweden, have essentially moved all electricity customers over to smart meters.


The first smart meter deployments, and many still today, used one-way, transmit-only communications. This automatic meter reading (AMR) was initially accomplished with walk-by or drive-by meter readers. But subsequently, many utilities implemented fully automated wireless or wired networks with neighborhood collectors or aggregators, which would facilitate the connection of many meters to some kind of wide area network (WAN), e.g. a cellular network, so the monthly, weekly, or hourly meter consumption data could be reported back to the billing systems of the utility company.

Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) is the name given to two-way communications networks, enabling not only remote meter reading, but also the control of meters and other equipment. AMI enables utilities to do things like connect or disconnect a customer and monitor and anticipate changes in electricity, making it possible for control distribution and generation equipment to respond to demand, implementing the so called “smart grid.” AMI can also be used to implement over-the-air (OTA) software updates, for example, to implement new communication protocols or to close newly discovered security gaps.

Smart Metering Equipment

Smart meters are available to measure the consumption of all different types of utilities: electricity, gas, water, and heating or cooling fluid. Originally, utility meters used mechanical metrology (measurement), but today almost all new smart meter designs use non-mechanical, fully electronic designs, often referred to as static meters. The move from mechanical to electronic (static) meters goes hand in hand with the move to smart meters. In fact, some meter vendors in China use the term “smart meters” to refer to any kind of electronic meters, even those that don’t have communications capability.

Almost all new smart meter designs use non-mechanical, fully electronic designs,
often referred to as static meters.

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