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Smart Meters Wreaking Havoc With Home Electronics 375

Posted by samzenpus
from the learn-to-play-nice dept.
wiredmikey writes "About 200 customers of the Central Maine Power Company recently noticed something odd after the utility installed smart meters in their homes: household electronics, including wireless devices, stopped working, or behaved erratically. Many Smart Meters broadcast in the 2.4GHz frequency range. Unfortunately, so do many of the consumer gadgets we take for granted these days including routers, electric garage doors, fire alarms, clocks, electric pet fences, answering machines, and baby monitors — even medical devices. The electromagnetic congestion in the home is in some ways similar to the growing electronic congestion in hospitals as they acquire more and more electronic monitors all operating within a few feet of each other. Medical equipment has been known to shut down or give erroneous results when positioned close to another piece of equipment. Such interference is not new, just getting worse — rapidly."
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Smart Meters Wreaking Havoc With Home Electronics

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  • Not so smart (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:26AM (#38156588)

    FCC has failed original mission statement.

  • Other stuff is OK (Score:5, Insightful)

    by mehrotra.akash (1539473) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:27AM (#38156596)
    but what are clocks and answering machines using wireless for?
  • Even better (Score:4, Insightful)

    by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:33AM (#38156622)
    Do not use wireless devices. Use cable connections in all that is possible.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:36AM (#38156636)

    Daily Mail readers quickly make themselves known.

  • Why wireless???? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by captainpanic (1173915) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:40AM (#38156650)

    Smart meters control the power going to electrical devices... logically, these are part of the electric grid, and are connected to powerlines. Why not add another wire to carry the signal, if you need to build a bunch of powerlines anyway?

  • Why, just why!? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BenJury (977929) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:43AM (#38156660)

    Why do 'smart' meters need to broadcast anything? If they're planning on using these things to communicate to high power devices, or any electrical device, the damn things are already wired together. Use that.

    If we're talking meter reading, then use the mobile network. Powering up to send a text with the reading every 3 months isn't exactly a big deal and I'd imagine would be considerably cheaper than still having to send someone to each property.

    You really do have to wonder who comes up with these ideas...

  • Re:Not so smart (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Stormthirst (66538) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:01AM (#38156756)

    What a surprise when it can bought and sold like a company on the stock exchange.

  • Re:Even better (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Twinbee (767046) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:10AM (#38156782) Homepage
    Wireless is the future for many apps - there's no turning back now. My mouse is (blissfully) wireless, and is my router, and hopefully the blasted sound lead will be in the future too (one can dream about the power lead).

    However what we do need are better standards, and/or an automated system where any communicating device can find space in the spectrum to signal. I'm not sure how trivial that is, but that would need standards as well. Problem is we need to work together and cooperate to set these standards.
  • Just a variant... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jd (1658) <imipak@yaCOLAhoo.com minus caffeine> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:27AM (#38156856) Homepage Journal

    ...of a problem that was first noted in the mid 1980s and termed "electronic smog" but the most general term is RFI and dates back as far radio systems in general. Not only do signals interfere with each other, but signals will interfere with ANY electronic device where pins or wires are capable of acting as a dipole. It's unusual for a machine to get scrambled due to an electronic can opener, but if said devices are improperly shielded, it is inevitable.

    In the case of wireless devices, you obviously can't shield the antenna. Well, not if you want it to still work. Provided interference is randomish and not overwhelming, AND provided all devices are based on packet communications, a device will be capable of repairing packets and identifying if they're intended for that device.

    The first problem is that many electronic devices don't give a damn about power levels beyond being low enough to not be the target of FCC ire. The second problem is that older devices especially are NOT packet based. This means that such devices can't tell if stray signals are intended for them or not. Anything that merely detects the presence of a signal won't care if that signal is a door-opener or a WoW session.

    It would be good if transmitters/receivers were a bit more directional - a garage door probably shouldn't be looking for signals coming from the neighbor's house. A door opener can afford to be very direct, since you want to open your door and nobody else's. A smart meter is designed to transmit to the road, so again it can be extremely directional. Directional transmitters and receivers mean less power is needed for the same signal strength received AND less interference off those directions.

    Medical devices, except when ABSOLUTELY necessary, should NEVER be wireless. The risk of RFI is way too high and the consequences of an error are far too severe. Wireless is also lower bandwidth, which places hard limits on the kinds of sensors it's useful for and also hard limits on what innovations can be made to medical sensor technology. Inside of a hospital room, I can't think of a single use for wireless devices where wired would not be superior in every respect.

  • Re:Even better (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Richard_at_work (517087) <richardprice.gmail@com> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:32AM (#38156872)

    Wireless doesn't need to be the future for hospitals, where each patient is already at a station where all instruments can be connected - the beds are already getting smarter than my dog (although no one has taught a bed to fetch yet), it's only a matter of time before all SATs and monitoring instruments are built in.

  • Re:Even better (Score:4, Insightful)

    by JasterBobaMereel (1102861) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:27AM (#38157086)

    When your batteries go dead, and the interference levels rise, I will still be typing, mousing, and have my internet connection with bits of copper connecting them all together ...

  • Re:Not so smart (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:42AM (#38157150)

    What does this have to do with FCC being bought, lobbied, etc? This is the fault of wireless device manufacturers choosing a crowded band to put their devices on. The FCC explicitly lays out the rules for devices on this particular band saying that nobody has rights over others using it.

  • Re:Not so smart (Score:4, Insightful)

    by KXeron (2391788) <kxeron.digibase@ca> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:01AM (#38157222) Homepage

    The problem is that spectrum is up for sale, aside from governmental implementations, there really isn't "open spectrum" for specific classes of devices unless a manufacturer has a monopoly on that area of spectrum AND type of devices. Spectrum is either assigned to organizations based off of money (auctions), or it is put up as a "free-for-all", which results in either underutilized or overcrowded communications.

    I bet if the FCC started allocating specific spectrum to specific industries (not organizations) the interference could drop quite quickly.

  • by Sqr(twg) (2126054) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:25AM (#38157360)

    They are not too lazy. They are too stupid. Likely, the same people are also the ones who oppose the U.N Convention of the Rights of the Child (ratified by every country except the U.S.A. and Somalia) because they need to beat the fear of God into their kids.

  • by AlecC (512609) <aleccawley@gmail.com> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:30AM (#38157794)

    See previous response: the only suggestion is cutting margins from generous to good. Your freezer has masses of space "cold capacity". Most peaks are in the evening, and your car would be recharged by morning. Cutting the top 1% of peaks, using perhaps 10% of your car's battery 20 evenings a year, would be very valuable to utilities. Of course, you don't have to opt in.

    Your response is typically American - me, me, me, and damn the community, even if it is to my financial advantage to share. You have bought capacity you don't need, but you won't consider sharing it (for money) just in case you might on a rare occasion want to use it. I bought it, so it is mine not to use.

  • Re:Not so smart (Score:5, Insightful)

    by KUHurdler (584689) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @11:00AM (#38158002) Homepage
    I'd be curious what smart meter provider they use. While there are some very sophisticated/expensive models, most of them only send very short data bursts every 15 or 30 minutes. Because of this, I suspect this article is just another consumer-paranoia attempt to blame smart meters for anything they can think of.
  • Re:Not so smart (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MikeBabcock (65886) <mtb-slashdot@mikebabcock.ca> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:48PM (#38159006) Homepage Journal

    I think you actually fail to understand the concept of interference. Hardware that isn't physically damaged in any way by the interference and goes on with its day still may not be able to maintain a high enough S/N ratio to function as the user desires.

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