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Low cost RF solutions for AMR systems

Wireless AMR is one of the fastest growing markets for short-range radio devices.

Wireless technologies communicate using radio frequency (RF) between pairs of antennas. The communication distance and reliability depend on the shape, size and placement of the antennas, the power level of the transmitted signal, the receiver’s sensitivity, the radio frequency, the data rate, the coding, error detection and error correction, as well as environmental conditions (electromagnetic noise, obstacles, temperature and humidity).

All wireless AMR systems use radio frequencies that are controlled and assigned by the local telecommunication authority. Some systems operate in licensed bands, and some use licence-free bands. Frequencies below 1000 MHz, especially the 400 MHz band, are attractive for AMR due to the longer communication range compared to higher frequencies. 

Two-way systems, which allow the utility to send information to the customer’s premises and to receive information from those premises over the same transmission medium, tend to be more complex and more expensive than one-way systems. However, they can provide additional capabilities, such as remote deactivation of a customer’s service, real-time price signals, or control of customers’ appliances.

Most utility and billing companies have recognised that the invention of low-cost low-power radio chips has made wireless RF communication the most cost-efficient way to collect utility meter data.

Wireless protocol standards for AMR

A radio protocol defines how the data is exchanged between the telemetry interface unit (TIU) and the data collector. It sets the standard for medium access, addressing, error detection and error correction schemes, as well as message acknowledgement. In AMR systems the protocol is packet oriented. The information data (payload) is sent as a packet consisting of a preamble, a header with a unique address or ID, control information, the payload and a tail with error detection/error correction checksums.

Protocols include Radian (Radio Application Network), the Konnex Association, Internet protocol (TCP/IP) and proprietary protocols. Some utilities still use proprietary protocols, but many now support the standardisation taking place in the AMR industry, where deregulation has led to the need for standards and open protocols.

RF solutions from Chipcon

All Chipcon’s RF transceivers and transmitters are configurable for most communication parameters like frequency, output power, data rate and data coding. This flexibility means that the products can be adapted to different standards, regulations and protocols.

All Chipcon’s RF transceivers and transmitters are configurable for most communication parameters like frequency, output power, data rate and data coding. This flexibility means that the products can be adapted to different standards, regulations and protocols.

Parameter CC400 CC900 CC1000/CC1010
Frequency range 300 – 500 MHz 500 – 1000 MHz 300 – 1000 Mhz
Range Best Best Good
Power consumption Good Good Best
Battery applications Good Good Best
Supply voltage range 2.7 – 3.3 V 2.7 – 3.3 V 2.1 – 3.6 V/
2.7 – 3.6 V
Power down mode Yes Yes Yes
Multi-channel systems Yes Yes Yes
Frequency hopping Yes Yes Yes
Frequency fine tuning Yes Yes Yes
RSSI No No Yes
Integrated bit synchroniser No NO Yes
Integration level Good Good Best
Package SSOP-28 SSOP-28 TSSOP28/

The frequency programmability means that they can easily be configured for use in different markets with different frequency allocations. One further advantage is that frequency hopping spread spectrum (FHSS) can be used. The FHSS offers higher security where frequency bands are shared between several users.

The CC400 RF transceiver is suitable for fixed or mobile RF AMR systems where long range is the primary concern. It has the highest sensitivity and highest output power among the devices, providing a two-way, long-range communication link with a high degree of security and long battery lifetime. The integrated and flexible chip enables users to make an RF circuit with high functionality and very few external components. AMR systems based on CC400 have shown ranges of more than 2000 metres from TIU to data collector.

Specifications   Min. Typ. (433 / 868 MHz) Max. Unit
General: RF Frequency Range 300   1000 Mhz
  Data Rate 0.6   76.8 kbit/s
TX Mode: Output Power (programmable) -20   10/5 dBm
  FSK Separation (programmable) 0   65 kHz
RX Mode: Receiver Sensitivity, 1.2 kbit/s   -110/-107   dBm
Power Supply: Supply Voltage 2.1   3.6 V
  Current Consumption, RX:   7.4/9.6   mA
  Current Consumption, TX, -20 dBM   5.3/8.6   mA
  Current Consumption, TX, -5 dBm   8.9/13.8   mA
  Current Consumption, TX, 0 dBm   10.4/16.5   mA
  Current Consumption, TX, 5 dBm   14.8/25.4   mA
  Current Consumption, TX, 10 dBm   26.7/-   mA
  Current Consumption, power down   0.2 1 µA

The CC1010 uses the same low power technology as CC1000, but includes a microcontroller core, memory and peripherals on the same chip. This allows for system on chip solutions where the application software runs on the embedded microcontroller.

Table 1 summarises and compares the features of the chips.


The CC1000 operates from 2.1 to 3.6 V making it ideal for battery applications using a single Lithium Manganese Dioxide 3.0 V coin cell or a Lithium Thionyl Chloride 3.6 V cell. The current consumption is 7.4 mA in receive mode, and from only 5.3 mA up to 26.7 mA in transmit mode, depending on the output power. The output power can be programmed in 1 dB steps up to 10 dBm at 433 MHz. In power-down mode the device draws only 0.2 uA – another important feature for battery applications in gas and water meters. CC1000 comes in a TSSOP 28 package, specified over a temperature range of –40 to 85°C.

Table 2 summarises the CC1000’s technical specifications. For one-way systems, the CC1050 RF transmitter can be used at the remote end. The CC1050 has the same overall transmitter parameter specifications as CC1000.

Very few external components are required to make a complete transceiver. This makes the CC1000 the perfect choice for the lowest cost and the smallest size applications. The application circuit is shown in Figure 1.

The CC1010


The RF performance of CC1010 is comparable to that achieved by CC1000. The operating voltage is 2.7 – 3.6 V, limited by the Flash process. Containing 32 kB Flash and 2 kB RAM makes it possible to run the complete application with protocol on the embedded microcontroller. General I/O, SPI or UART interfaces can be used to interface the consumption meter, and the 10 bit ADC can be used to interface sensors and detectors directly. The on-chip hardware DES module makes it easy to add a proven encryption standard to the system to meet the stringent security requirements of AMR systems.

The CC1010 block diagram in Figure 2 shows all the 8051 peripherals available.

The CC1010’s application circuit requires few external components to make a complete radio system. Chipcon offers an extensive software library together with the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) and debugger for easy software development, together with the development kit. Example code including simple packet protocols is also available.