Ontario’s electricity distributor, Hydro One Inc., is using WiMAX devices to read customer meters remotely. It plans to have all 1.3 million users connected next year.

To date, the utility has 900,000 customers on smart meters, which connect to the network using wireless interoperability for microwave access (WiMAX) equipment made by Redline Communications Group Inc. of Markham, Ont.

The fact that WiMAX adheres to the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)’s 802.16 standards was a major reason for choosing the technology, said Rick Stevens, the smart grid project manager for Hydro One.

“It relieves us of the need to send out meter readers,” Stevens said, which in turn reduces the mileage on its trucks and gasoline consumption. “Our geography requires a lot of bill estimation.”

In addition to 1.3 million individual customers, Hydro One distributes electricity to 20 remote communities, and 83 municipal electrical utilities, as well as 110 large industrial customers. Hydro One’s smart meter program does not include those other customers.

By using Redline’s WiMAX equipment, Hydro One can monitor electricity use and bill customers according to the time they used their electricity, enabling them to charge more during peak hours.

The pilot phase of the project was done using equipment in the 1.8 GHz band, and the trial was in the 3GHz band, said Kevin Suitor, Redline’s vice-president of marketing.

Suitor added Redline developed a custom wireless modem for Hydro One.

The meters are part of Hydro One’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), which is used in rural areas near Barrie. In addition to reading meters, the WiMAX equipment can help Hydro One dispatch field staff, plan for future capacity and monitor power stations and transmission lines.

“Rather than fly helicopter or driving to locate a transmission line fault, they could go to intermediate checkpoints to see if power is still flowing to that point in the network.” Suitor said.

With remote meter reading, Suitor said, Hydro One could “micromanage” the network to avoid brownouts or blackouts.

Stevens said customers could use the wireless meters to get real-time information about consumption and control their thermostats or appliances.

The Redline equipment was selected partly due to its high bandwidth, Stevens said.

“The price point per megabit (per second) is very economical,” he said. “As we get out in the more rural areas of Ontario, we will find locations where there is no wide-area network.”

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