Miltel: Fixed Network a Reality
The past year has marked a turnaround point for the utility market. More than ever, utilities are investing in metering technologies. Whether this trend is related to the worldwide privatisation phenomenon or is another of the consequences of the US energy crisis, it is clear that metering information technologies are rapidly growing to become an essential part of a utility company’s marketing package. Whether gas, electricity or water, utilities are deploying AMR technologies at a greater pace than in the past. Miltel Communications is one of the key players in this evolving marketplace.
Miltel was one of the first companies to develop a full wireless fixed network that can be deployed in gas, water and electric utilities. While most solutions are based on extending a drive-by solution to operate with a fixed base station, Miltel developed SpeedRead, a system that was designed from day one as an effective fixed network. Yarum Locker, Miltel’s CEO, explains: “We understood early on that migration from drive-by to fixed network was not practical – drive-by and fixed network are two different technological concepts. For this reason, we first developed a solid fixed network system and later added on a drive-by component that can be upgraded to full fixed network at the click of a button.”
Miltel has attained an outstanding achievement with the installation of more than a hundred sites worldwide. Miltel has distribution networks in the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, China, North America, and in Israel where its R&D center is located. Miltel’s unique technology allows the system to be deployed in almost any country, regardless of the local radio communication requirements. The system is designed in a way that allows for easy modification of the radio frequency and output power in order to fit the local regulations. This feature allows multinational utility companies to deploy one common solution in the various countries in which they operate.
Another key feature of the SpeedRead technology is its ability to link up to ten meters to one radio device. In many cases, domestic meters are located in meter bank batteries. Whether it be in two adjacent utility meters boxes on the property border, or in a utility cabinet inside a multi-dwelling property, it is common to find electric, gas and water meters in groups. In such cases, Miltel enables it customers to enjoy significant cost savings. Miltel has recently deployed a system in China where all three utilities have joined forces to collect metering information from electric, gas and water meters in the same neighborhood. In this particular site, the system averaged more than five meters per transmitter.
The issue of cost justification has always been a key decision factor for utilities that has never been successfully addressed. Accurate meter reading and solving problems of difficult-to-access meters had been the main reasons for those utilities to adopt AMR. Nevertheless, the financial justification remained difficult to prove. The ability to get accurate on-going meter reads as frequently as one hour has changed the cost justification model. Miltel’s SpeedNet Consumption Management System allows utilities to realise savings due to decreased non-scheduled reads, fewer disputed bills, more efficient customer handling and early detection of outage or malfunctioning meters. In a competitive marketplace, these benefits become a tool that allows the utility to offer new services. With deregulation, many utilities find that there is a high risk of losing their customers to competing utilities. Whether it be a large industrial customer or a domestic household, value-added services are now an important part of the utility’s offerings.
Just recently, Miltel was awarded a contract to install a fixed network AMR system for a city with more than 25,000 water meters. The project is well underway and by the end of this year more than 12,000 households will be connected to the system. As with many utility companies, the local municipality required that Miltel’s system be integrated into the existing IT infrastructure so that the municipality could have a seamless link to the existing billing system. Miltel was also required to provide an interface to the customer support centre and to the operations management system. Within days after the first 1,200 customers were connected to the system, the customer care department was able to start locating leaks and receive information about other malfunctions. Through the utilisation of Miltel’s patent pending flow analysis algorithm, the system provides a unique set of alerts. In one case, for example, the system detected a major leak in an apartment. A utility technician responding to the call was able to locate the leak, of which the resident was completely unaware. Normally, such a case would result in a complaint about a higher than usual water bill several months later. In this case, not only was the dispute avoided, but the utility gained credit for providing the alert even before the customer was aware of the problem. This type of event is not unusual. Many of Miltel’s customers in Europe and in the US have had similar experiences. The CEO of SpeedRead Technologies, Miltel’s North American distributor, Bernard Hasten, adds: “In many of our installations – including submetered gas – we have found leaks. In some of these circumstances, the system has paid for itself in a very short period of time.”
In the past year, Miltel has achieved extensive growth through many projects in the submetering and utility markets. While many utility projects have been completed for domestic gas or water utilities, Miltel has also attained a strong position as a provider of systems for submetering. Meanwhile, some fifty sites have been set up in the US and more than a hundred more are planned. In the Far East, Miltel has won several tenders and contracts positioning itself as one of the leading companies in this area.
Miltel has set a goal to dominate the European utility AMR market. Recently, Miltel has entered into co-operation with a number of major European utilities. For the utility market, Miltel’s product range includes a variety of industrial components that offer additional facilities to the major consumer.
With its growing worldwide presence, Miltel is joining forces with its customers to offer a unique set of new services such as interactive billing, on-line notification services and wireless data logging. Innovative tariff structures are another area where Miltel’s SpeedRead technology is providing utilities with new tools that provide a competitive edge. “SpeedRead’s adaptability is a key factor in meeting our customers’ specific needs” says Jack Graudenz, Miltel’s Chairman. “Our goal is to grow our technology based upon market requirements and thereby continue to provide our customers with the best solutions.”