Utility suppliers eye smart meter introduction in Japan


Yoshiya Hayashi,
MIC, Japan 
Approaches toward the introduction of "smart meters," upgraded gas, water and electricity meters used for remote reading, etc, have become increasingly active in Japan.
Firms including Tokyo Gas Co Ltd, Osaka Gas Co Ltd, Toho Gas Co Ltd and NTT Corp will embark on creating a communication standard for the remote reading of various kinds of meters.  
Connecting various meters with wide-area and relay wireless adapters, for example, the smart meter technology enables the wireless reading of the meters using multi-hop connection and other technologies. Smart meters employ low power wireless communication technologies so that they can run for about ten years with batteries.
The forum’s secretariat aims at standardizing the relay radio technologies used for smart meters as well as the interface used to connect various meters and wireless adapters. To meet these goal, the secretariat intends to ally with gas suppliers, waterworks bureaus and manufacturers.
In addition to Tokyo Gas and Osaka Gas, electric power suppliers such as Tokyo Electric Power Co Inc, the Kansai Electric Power Co Inc and Chubu Electric Power Co Inc as well as Yokohama Waterworks Bureau and Tokyo Metropolitan Government’s Bureau of Waterworks were invited to the forum.
This time, the secretariat proposed the "Ubiquitous Metering System," which consists of the following three elements.
They are (1) "wide-area ubiquitous terminals," adapters equipped with wide-area wireless capabilities, (2) "multistage relay wireless terminals," adapters that relay data via multiple meters like a bucket brigade and (3) "meters equipped with a next-generation communication interface," which can be connected to various adapters.

The 280MHz band radio technology, which NTT is currently verifying, and the 950MHz band radio technology are expected to be used for wide-area and relay wireless networks, respectively.
Gas and water meters will need to support the next-generation communication interface to connect to those wireless adapters. The specifications of the interface have been different depending on the application of meter such as utility gas and LP gas. But Tokyo Gas is considering standardizing them, taking advantage of the introduction of the smart meters.

If the different interfaces used by gas, water and electricity meters are standardized, the price of adapter terminals can lower because utility suppliers will be able to share the same wireless adapters. As for the similar concept of remotely reading meter values using multi-hop connection, Kansai Electric Power already announced that it would start verification tests.
Among those technologies, the forum secretariat is considering internationally standardizing the communication technology used by multistage relay radio terminals. For that purpose, it is planning to propose the technology to the "TG4g," a working group under the IEEE802.15 standards committee in the US.

Also, the forum secretariat revealed that the TG4g Chairman Phil Beecher is participating in the forum and promoting standardization of 4g, aiming to finish formulating it in June 2011. Furthermore, the secretariat will promote the standardization of the next-generation communication interface in collaboration with the LP Gas IT Promotion Council, the Japan Gas Association and the High Pressure Gas Safety Institute of Japan, etc, it said.

At the end of the forum, Yoshiya Hayashi, deputy director of the Land Mobile Communications Division in the Radio Department of the Telecommunications Bureau of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC), delivered a speech.
Referring to the method that the forum is formulating, he said, "It will definitely become the next-generation infrastructure. The ministry will help in terms of radio frequency policies," indicating the government’s plan to indirectly support the standardization.