RE Magazine

RF Mesh: Moving Beyond Cities 

More and more electric co-ops are looking at RF mesh communication networks to handle smart grid demands—and as a way to offer additional services.

Solutions

By Patricia Irwin

Cover Story

For any electric co-op operating automated meter reading (AMR) or advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems, efficiently moving an evergrowing volume of smart meter data to the main office poses significant communication challenges. One backhaul solution being looked at more closely these days, radio frequency (RF) mesh technology, employs radio transmitters in each meter to send electric use information. But unlike a fixed communication network, where each meter connects directly to a collector, data in an RF mesh structure travels through a web of meters to a single collection point.

Mesh communications have the advantage of being able to function when a single mesh node or multiple nodes break down or a connection is severed, since nodes can dynamically switch to neighboring ones as conditions warrant. For example, data might pass through 10 or more meters meshed together; if the radio signal fails between two of them, it will automatically reroute and take a different path.

RF mesh has been used with AMR/AMI systems for years, but until recently, most applications were limited to high-density, more urbanized areas where distances between individual meters are small (less than 500 feet). Increasingly, however, vendors and co-ops are finding that RF mesh radio transmissions can journey much farther than expected―7 miles or more.

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