Making the move from Power Line Carrier (PLC) technology to RF wireless is something that many utilities are actively exploring. PLC technology is challenged to keep up with the data that today’s grid demands. Real-time visibility is critical for managing an increasingly complex grid.

In this short video, we’ll walk through the various ways that utilities can make the transition from PLC to RF wireless AMI. Enjoy.


Hello, David Stair here with Sensus. Today I’m going to be talking to you about transition easily from a Power Line Carrier or Power Line Communications to an RF wireless technology selection for AMI.

So as you kind of look back in the history of what and how the PLC technology was invented and what it was invented for, it was really invented to try to reduce some costs for the co-ops that were spending a large amount of money, trying to go out and obtain meter readings. A lot of those service territories are very, very large. They would, they would span miles and miles of land and had huge square mileage involved in regards to their service territories would deployed at.

So this technology where you take equipment, injection equipment inside the substation, and push that information downline to those end points and then retrieve a  reading back was a super way to save a lot of money and to become more efficient.  You know, kind of back in the early 1990s. So the co-ops really kind of led this effort in this technology, because it served that industry well for so long. A few of the municipalities also took part in this and purchased PLC systems as well. So that technology has been great. As you kind of look forward into 2021 now, and you’re trying to capture more data, trying to introduce distribution automation, lighting control, load control, demand response programs that technology usually requires having to put up a different network. So it’s a great time to consider putting up an RF wireless system as well.

So if you look at today’s times when you’re talking about, Hey, I gotta have it right now. You look at Amazon at a great example of, of how and why everybody wants something today. Right now you can order something today on Amazon and have it delivered that afternoon, or maybe the next day. The same way with food services. You can order groceries and have it delivered to your house. Well the utility industry is really no different in regards to having and wanting things immediately.

A lot of customers, or members in the co-op space, are looking to look at what the consumption is and how they can maybe conserve or where they can cut back and just confirm what the usage is as the month goes on. So a couple of key drivers in regards to how and why you would want AMI, other than maybe having the cost of sending a meter reader out to the ends of your line and, and taking up a large amount of time out of a typical 20-21 day work month to be able to capture all those reads.

If you look at the legacy PLC challenges, and there were some, as great as it was to capture all those reads and to stop all those truck rolls, you’re very limited in the data that was coming back off of those systems as well. So the rating was very good, very consistent, able to capture billing data and produce that bill and send that back out. But there are other areas that, that fell kind of behind in what you can capture such as outage information, even other applications such as distribution automation and load control devices, demand response. So as you look to maybe switch that system out from PLC over to RF wireless, those are a couple of key things you want to consider as including in your request when you do engage with them.

So why RF wireless AMI? Well, first off, that’s the newest of the technologies in regards to communicating to an end point. One great thing about this technology is that most of the time those assets are not stranded. In many cases the PLC, previous vendors have end-of-life, or obsolescence comes into play in regards to supporting that old technology and wireless RF that does not appear to be the case so far as we have entered into this century for AMI needs.

So if you look at wireless RF, you’ve really got a couple of different flavors there, point-to-multipoint and mesh. So we’re going to chat a little bit about point-to-multipoint today that’s when you’re going to go from a meter to the collector, from the collector into the head-end system.  That way it allows you to be able to get very direct communications directly from that end point all the way to the collector.

And you’re not dependent on other meters to be the network. Likewise in the mesh offering, you’re going to go from a meter to a meter to a meter, to a router to a collector. You’re really dependent on the other meters as well as other verticals, such as water or gas in points that you may want to read those locations as well. They would be depended on jumping on back on the back of the electric meter to ride that communication path back in.

Not with a point the multi-point. You can talk directly to the end points. Another thing to really kind of consider when you’re looking at RF wireless is how they communicate. And in some systems they are full duplex. So they’re about like the cell phone. They can talk and listen at the same time, um, and do offer a licensed spectrum, which gives you a few benefits in regards to remediation. If you were to ever have interference, anytime you have RF, there is a potential of interference on your system. You want to make sure you kind of get that covered off as well. So having that licensed spectrum and having a legal recourse back from the FCC should be something that, that you should hold a high probability as well.

So kind of looking at how the old PLC systems were deployed and put out in the field, you could very easily put equipment into the substation injection equipment. That’s going to send a command and bring that information back on a very specific timeframe. You can do substation at a time, which allows you to do your feeders depending on what your growth rates are. So if you’re looking to change out to what you may have some growth and maybe having to add a new substation, this would be the perfect time to be able to start up an RF wireless system that would allow you to deploy whenever and however fast you would like to deploy.

Another consideration in regards to how you could deploy would be maybe some hard to get locations. Locations that, you’ve got some growth in, but it’s just going to take you extra effort in obtaining those reads all the way to the tip. So you may have some hard to guess where you’ve got some hunting cabins or some lodges in your service territory that are very difficult to read. It’s going to take up a ton of time to enter that property and get back off of that property. You may want to target some of those areas, bad dog locations, gate locked locations, those same locations.

Once you put an RF wireless network up, you can put an end point there and capture those are it’s very easily. And of course you can always do a full-fledged change out. That process is, what all the vendors are very used to in regards to operating maybe two systems at one time, sending you information of the new system, while you still continue to get information from your old system as well. All the vendors really support that type of structure.

So three takeaways in regards to the PLC to the RF wireless switch, one would be, as you had picked something that may have been your first gen AMI/AMR type technology, as you move on into the RF world, a couple of things you really need to consider. One is, do I have protection? Do I have, any type of remediation plan if I have some interference? Does that new application or technology support various applications in regards to maybe prepaid programs, remote disconnects, all the way to the ends of your feeders, all the way to the tips there, to where you get inbound and outbound coverage and confirm that those disconnects did work? Which is really what you need when you start a prepaid program as well. And then there are certain things that you may want to consider that you don’t do in day one.

It could obviously meter rating is super important to be able to capture those reads, but maybe you want to start distribution automation. You want to pick a solution that will support that, and that has a track record of that proven success, flexible deployment with, with RF wireless technologies, you have the ability to not be held to just the feeders that come out of that substation. Now you can start in one end, and as long as you have the network up, you can set a meter in the North end, the South end and East or the West, and without being tied back to that substation. So those are a few things that you really want to consider as well.

So I hoped that helped you in trying to determine a few things to consider as you’re looking to go from PLC over to RF wireless. Thanks a lot.