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Is a smart meter mandatory? As an amateur radio operator I'm worried they might interfere with my signal!


I am informed my meter is out of test and needs replacing. Am I obliged to have a smart meter? I have a complex WiFi arrangement with multiple access points, I run a local web and email server requiring constant power and I am also a practising licensed amateur radio operator regularly transmitting signals of the order of 50-100 Watts. I already experience serious interference from local sources such as VDSL and other people’s faulty “home plugs”. I have also read of all the issues which can arise from smart meter installation, including reports of electrical faults being introduced by the installing engineer (who on occasions with some companies has apparently been shown to be uncertified) and failure of the installation to properly communicate, giving users sometimes months of grief with much blame-passing between providers of various parts of the infrastructure. I would much prefer to stay un-smart and provide nice, simple meter readings! Is this possible, or am I legally obliged to go “smart”?

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Best answer by Lukepeniket_OVO 1 January 2022, 13:49

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Hi there @FrancB !

I think I can help here. I’m Blastoise186 by the way, and I’m one of the forum volunteers here.

Could you post some photos of your meter please? I’d like to see what you’ve got first as that helps me to check a few things. If you could also fill out your forum profile, that would be really helpful.

What kind of Wi-Fi are you running by the way? I use a LOT of Ubiquiti UniFi kit myself and have no trouble with interference at all from my Smart Meter, Raichu or the two IHDs that I have. They’re actually designed to keep out of your way and are nowhere near as troublesome as home plugs - in actual fact home plugs are about 1,000% more likely to interfere with your amateur radio setup than Smart Meters are.

I’ve actually got a friend who has an amateur radio license and a Smart Meter. I’m happy to ask him if he’s had any trouble since the upgrade.

As for the rules, it’s… Complicated. OVO might be willing to let you have a Traditional Meter, but as a Non Standard Installation, it would be at OVO’s discretion and you may be charged for the install.

It also just so happens that a Smart Meter Engineer helps out on the forum as well. Let me introduce you to @Lukepeniket_OVO , as he might know a bit more about this.

Userlevel 4

Hello all and happy new year!

 

As @Blastoise186 has already mentioned smart is designed to not interfere with users installations through the use of ZigBee network, I Will say you both will know more than me about the wireless communications of technology but I believe you can find more information about it from government websites.

 

My manager has actually had smart (south central through the mobile networks) and is a keen radio enthusiast, HAM I believe, and has had no problems?

 

@Blastoise186  ofcourse my info and experience is for the South/Central CSP and the North might be slightly different? (Looking at you Fylingdales)

 

Edit 1: I didn't answer your question, no, smart meters are not compulsory at current but most tariffs require a smart meter to be installed.

 

Happy New Years, @FrancB 

 

Great to see our community experts @Blastoise186 AND @Lukepeniket_OVO offering you some tip-top smart meter advice over the festive-break. I won’t attempt to add to the great technical advice they’ve given but would advise you to check out this similar thread raised by a fellow radio enthusiast, which also suggests that the frequencies used by a Smart meter shouldn’t interfere with your radio signals.

 

We’d always recommend going smart as it comes with some great benefits, however as long as your meter is functioning and not due for re-certification you’re free to choose not to upgrade just yet! :slight_smile:

 

Hi guys, thanks for your responses so far! I’ll post a photo when I have some time  (today is a bit hectic!), and likewise update my profile - both of those when I’ve figured out also how to do them….:thinking:

The meter is a solid-state digital dual-rate one, although I am on a single-rate tariff, and the low-rate timer is separate and quite a few hours out of sync I think (unimportantly of course!) since the twelve-hour power failure we had locally a couple of years ago. I am in the West Midlands (Coventry). I admit it would be good to get rid of the dual-rate unit and not have to give two readings.

As well as about interference to my hobby I was concerned about my hobby interfering with the meter! A close-range transmission of up to 50 Watts on UHF I would have thought quite likely to have some effect - I already have to take care not to interfere with my neighbours’ TV reception which is as much my responsibility as theirs is to have regulation-compliant receiving equipment. Reading some of the posts on this forum it seems the smart meter technology - and Ovo’s freedom to solve issues - is not as problem-free as some would like us to believe. It would seriously affect my life if I was cut off from supply as a result of a misdiagnosed fault or tampering condition.

Happy New Year and I’ll post again shortly!

Edit: I forgot to mention, my WiFi installation comprises three Cisco 1602i APs distributed around the property.

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Ah ok, thanks for that. It helps a lot! Thanks for the assist by the way Luke. :)

You can edit your profile using this magic link. It’s also the same place where you can change your password if you need to, or update your notification settings. Don’t forget to click save when you’re done!

As for photos, you can either simply copy/paste them into the editor, use drag n drop or click the image icon in the toolbar above the editor and pick the files from there. Please make sure to keep each image under 5MB or it won’t upload. If you have trouble, feel free to email them over to forum@ovoenergy.com and ask a moderator to link them to this thread.

Just a heads up by the way, your Cisco APs are End of Life as of yesterday. It might be a good time to upgrade your kit when you get chance.

Anyway, onto the main event. As far as I’m aware, you shouldn’t cause any interference issues. The ZigBee HAN is on the 2.4GHz band which is the same as 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, so if you’re already keeping clear of Wi-Fi on 2.4GHz and 5GHz, then you’re definitely not going to clash with ZigBee stuff either. While not relevant for Smart Meter purposes, Z-Wave runs on 868.40 MHz and 869.85 MHz in the UK and EU, so if you can avoid those two as well, you'll definitely keep the neighbours very happy. No doubt you’ve already considered that though!

As for WAN comms, Luke is correct. You’re in the Southern Territory (well, technically Central Territory) and therefore it’d be the Telefonica WAN which uses Cellular. As long as you’re keeping clear of the frequencies used by GPRS and GSM, then you’re definitely out of the way of ALL SMETS1 and SMETS2 Smart Meters in your area. The Long-Range Radio based Arqiva WAN is only used in the Northern Territory and you’re over 150 miles away from that, which is probably well out of range and I’d call it out of scope in this case.

Given that all of that stuff is either on licensed frequencies and/or on frequencies that don’t tend to get used for HAM Radio, I think you’re pretty safe. Ofcom will have almost certainly considered these factors before granting any such licenses to basically anyone and no doubt you’d be alerted if things changed.

I can’t think of any likely issues that would be caused by your equipment and Smart Meters do have to be capable of dealing with any such interference and work around it, just like everything else does. Most of the significant activity happens overnight anyway, so chances are that’d be when you’re asleep. It’s not easy to accidentally break a meter and I would be absolutely stunned if you managed to trigger a fault condition or a phantom tamper alert with a HAM Radio. But if you did, I bet the meter manufacturer would probably want to fix the design flaw to prevent it happening again with their meters. That wouldn’t be your fault though - all incidents of possible tampering are investigated. If the investigation determines it to be a false alarm, no further action will be taken other than to perhaps apologise for the inconvenience and reset the tamper alarm.

I didn’t manage to chat with my friend today, but I don’t recall him ever mentioning any cases where he’s known someone with an amateur radio license brick a Smart Meter with their activities.

But yes… RAF Flyingdales causes nightmares for Smart Meter purposes. So much so that the Data Communications Company has been forced to temporarily blacklist the area around Flyingdales as having no WAN coverage until they’re able to develop a special Comms Hub that can deal with the intensive transmissions from that particular RAF base and not be affected by them. I doubt your kit will ever be that overpowered! XD

I’m really glad to see that your intentions are to play fair though, which is great. You did the right thing by asking or advice first and we can definitely try to find out more details if you need them, especially to avoid clashes.

Ultimately, even if your transmissions prevent Smart Meter comms from working, it’s not the end of the world. You can still submit manual readings if needed and MyOVO will unlock that option if five days pass with no Smart reading. You’ll also be able to submit by phone at anytime. The only functionality that would be affected at all would really just be Smart communications. But even then, Smart Meters are designed to be able to run in “offline mode” if needed so that still allows your supply to keep working regardless.

And yep, I totally agree with you regarding HomePlugs. In fact, after the HomePlug Alliance was terminated around 2016/17, pretty much all development of the HomePlug Standards has basically been abandoned with little to no progress ever since. They really don’t work that well anyway and there’s far better solutions like Ubiquiti UniFi or Ruckus Unleashed if people really want decent Wi-Fi, which are far less noisy than HomePlugs…

Anyway, I definitely agree that it would be good for you to get that meter switched out with a new one. If the replacement happens to either be a Smart Meter OR a Single Rate Traditional Meter, OVO will take care of updating your account records to remove the requirement to submit two readings at once. The engineer will also remove any time switch or teleswitching devices that were hooked up as well at no extra charge, since you’d no longer have a need for them.

I think it would be a good idea for you to discuss this particular Meter Exchange with the Support Team before going ahead, especially due to the circumstances you mentioned and it’s definitely worth bringing that up. It might be that OVO needs to do a bit more planning ahead than usual, but you’ll know when you ask.

Might be a good one for OVO’s internal Smart Meter Friend actually when I think about it. I’ll see what @Tim_OVO thinks when he’s back on Monday.

Thanks @Blastoise186 , I’ll look forward to @Tim_OVO ‘s comments later. Having now sussed the profile edit and photo submission stuff (not hard!) I’ll post a photo if you still need it but I think I probably gave you enough above. Regarding the Cisco devices, thanks for the heads-up but the reason I have them is exactly that they’re end-of-life and so came for free :wink:  - I think they’ll last me a while yet!

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Hehehe, as long as you’re aware, that’s the main thing.

Mind you, since you have them you may as well make use of them for now. I think that model has a built-in spectrum analyser iirc. It’s not guaranteed, but if you can somehow get hold of the companion software and get it to run, you might be able to do an RF Scan of the environment to identify potential interference and deploy some workarounds if needed.

Just be mindful that older Cisco kit tends to start to “fail” after EoL is reached. Someone I know has a whole bunch of Cisco Aironet 2702i APs and pretty much all of them are showing signs of imminent failure (along with the controller actually)… Right after EoL was reached too. :stuck_out_tongue:

I can’t make any promises that Tim will be able to get any further answers, but this is actually a seriously good one. I wouldn’t be surprised if any other HAM Radio enthusiasts are interested in the same question.

Userlevel 7

Happy New Years, @FrancB 

 

Great to see our community experts @Blastoise186 AND @Lukepeniket_OVO offering you some tip-top smart meter advice over the festive-break. I won’t attempt to add to the great technical advice they’ve given but would advise you to check out this similar thread raised by a fellow radio enthusiast, which also suggests that the frequencies used by a Smart meter shouldn’t interfere with your radio signals.

 

We’d always recommend going smart as it comes with some great benefits, however as long as your meter is functioning and not due for re-certification you’re free to choose not to upgrade just yet! :slight_smile:

Thanks @Jess_OVO  - I had heard of the issues discussed in that thread, but they seem to be more concerned with SMETS 1 so I don’t think it’s that relevant any more. Regarding interference, the problem with close range (“near field”) issues is that they don’t quite follow the usual rules of radio usage. A strong signal only a few metres away need not be on anything like the same frequency as the one interfered with to cause problems, and one of my concerns was/is high-power transmissions by me disturbing the meter, rather than the other way around. I don’t find problems with GSM signals and my radios in either direction so that is fine, but I can, if not careful, easily interfere with TV reception which is on an entirely different band from the one I might be using. A local signal like that will be significantly stronger than anything emitted even from military installations a matter of miles away like RAF Fylingdales and its region of influence, and could easily swamp communications elsewhere in the spectrum if they are not adequately filtered, but since I am in the West Midlands region my meter would not be using that vulnerable system anyway. I am reaching the conclusion that things won’t be as bad as they might be, but it would be good to understand the ‘smart’ system a little better before I upgrade - if you read the discussion above you will see that my meter is indeed out of certification, so despite the fact I am confident it isn’t currently lying about my consumption I guess it will need replacing soon!

Happy New Year to you too! :slight_smile:

 

Edit: Reading that thread again, one of the issues seems to be with the internal power supplies for the smart meter gear. If these use ‘switched-mode’ supplies for the electronics involved that can be a serious source of interference across all frequencies if they are of low quality, and I feel sure there’s a chance they will be made to the cheapest acceptable specification! I will try to find a friend or neighbour’s smart meter and do a local scan for interference!

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Someone showed me a teardown of a Smart Meter once. I won’t identify them for fairly obvious reasons, but they mentioned that the components were pretty high quality and definitely not cheap. They even had a real hard time getting into the meter (which was already a dead unit that had been removed from service) and it was pretty obvious that it had been well constructed.

That particular meter just so happened to be a SMETS1 Secure Liberty meter, which is the type that OVO used to use back in the day. As for S2, OVO uses Aclara and I can definitely provide you a copy of the user manual, in case that helps. It’s hosted on the SmartMe website, which is a resource we use here a lot.

That’s very helpful, thanks, both the teardown story and the manual link! I’ll have a good read over the next few days and decide what to do next.

There is a lot of useful information on this site https://www.smartme.co.uk/technical.html which could help you. It includes frequencies used.

Thanks @MGreenwood - very useful!

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