Choosing a Mobile Device for Smart Meter Reading

Aug. 1, 2017
Smart meters are now commonplace in residential, commercial, and industrial applications nationwide. Utilities have discovered a variety of benefits from collecting status and usage data efficiently in the field while eliminating potentially hazardous situations for technicians. 

By Jim Dempsey

Smart meters are now commonplace in residential, commercial, and industrial applications nationwide. Utilities have discovered a variety of benefits from collecting status and usage data efficiently in the field while eliminating potentially hazardous situations for technicians.

As smart meters gain more functionality they are evolving beyond simply recording usage to create a customer bill. The latest smart meters can now act as sensors to help utilities understand what’s going on with their distribution networks, enabling them to quickly determine the root of a performance issue. On the other side, customers also benefit from online access to their usage data and other services enabled by smart meters.

Despite increasingly automated capabilities, technicians in the field using rugged tablets and laptops still play a critical role in ensuring these systems operate reliably and deliver the return on investment that utilities expect and the uninterrupted services their customers demand. Here are some things to look for in a mobile device with smart meters.

Consider the Connectivity

Smart meters deliver two-way communication from the meter installed in homes and commercial environments to utility providers. While some utilities have connected their smart meters by installing fixed-network routers and collectors on nearby power poles or other utility infrastructure, many utilities still employ mobile data collection for their electricity, gas and water meters, otherwise known as drive-by meter reading. In these cases, it’s important to find a mobile device that has strong connectivity capabilities for technicians in the field. Newer connectivity capabilities include meters equipped with cellular communications that allow management and data transfer independent of the location of reader vehicles through the use of laptops and tablets.

Of course, the ability to use computing devices in vehicles and outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions is essential for the overall productivity of the field service team. Rugged enterprise-ready devices should be impervious to wet conditions and cold weather, and be able to withstand typical incidents like drops and falls without damaging their screens and cases.

Important Steps

Proper considerations for selecting the right mobile device include the following:

  • Evaluate your operational needs and daily working environments.
  • Assess your IT infrastructure and how existing technology is performing daily tasks.
  • Prioritize and understand how the device you are considering will improve business functionality and/or lower maintenance costs.
  • Ask for input from field service workers to determine how they are using the current technology, what issues they face and whether their devices could be more helpful.
  • Know what requirements you need from your device. Should it be semi-rugged, fully rugged or built for hazardous conditions?
  • Evaluate the physical environment workers endure. This will help to choose a device that will work effectively in those environments.
  • Document real-world hardware and app usage for a better understanding of how a new device will fit into employees’ daily responsibilities.
  • Investigate device security capabilities to ensure data is encrypted and protected at all times.
  • Consider what additional accessories are required for optimal performance in the field.

Other Considerations

A third-party “rugged” case may look sturdy but might not be enough to protect a device from the harsh environments it encounters in the field. It’s important to investigate the suggested use cases for the device to determine if it’s really a good fit for your business.

Can the mobile device withstand drops, liquid spills, dust and grime at a work site, cold or hot temperatures? Be sure to analyze and compare everything from internal components like hard drives and ports to doors, screens and hinges. To avoid downtime, the device you select should work the way you do.

Selecting the wrong device for your business can result in higher-than-average device failures, which can lead to increased repair costs and decreased productivity. A strategic mix of purpose-built, role-specific devices might be a much smarter solution and makes the technology partner you choose a critical decision to the success of your mixed device portfolio. Working with a company that not only designs, builds and tests its own core components but also has a strong history of reliability, quality and outstanding support ensures your mobile deployment will be as smooth and cost-effective as possible.

Empowering your field service workforce with purpose-built mobile devices ensures teams have the right tool for the job at hand. Far beyond improved efficiency and enhanced worker satisfaction, less downtime in the field also improves overall business outcomes and delivers a better customer experience.

About the Author: Jim Dempsey is a national manager at Panasonic where he focuses on identifying new business opportunities for Panasonic’s line of mobility products across verticals in the retail, warehousing, distribution, logistics, manufacturing and public safety sectors. He works closely with Panasonic’s field sales organization to facilitate joint demand generation, sales activities and account management.