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Smart Meters Wreaking Havoc With Home Electronics 375

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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  • by lostsoulz ( 1631651 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:29AM (#38156606)

    Most utilities are moving to smart meters. It's a technological nirvana propounded by PHBs and the companies selling the crap. Just think, you don't need to waste hard cash on people actually reading meters. Hell no, you can drive down a road and read all the meters with a laptop. Except you can't because some of the technology is immature and signal strength from these devices seldom reaches the manufacturers claims.

    We were told by a manufacturer that their technology was secure because their software is proprietry. It's a recipe for disaster...especially given that a quick google for "security research smart meter," returns some interesting results. Welcome to the brave new world of smart metering. Minus the "smart."

  • Re:Why wireless???? (Score:4, Informative)

    by Zocalo ( 252965 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @06:49AM (#38156704) Homepage
    There are typically two parts to the meter. One that clips to the electrical powerline(s) near to where they come into the premises and another that displays the realtime power consumption. Since the former is typically in a closet and the latter placed somewhere it can be seen, there may be some distance between the two. That potentially makes running a cable a less than ideal solution, so the default solution seems to be to just go with wireless.
  • by AlecC ( 512609 ) <> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:05AM (#38156768)

    According to TFA, the smart meters will do more than that. They are intended in the medium term to allow power control within the house. So that the meter can signal to, say, the freezer that power demand is particularly high, and if it could hold off consuming power for a while it would be appreciated. And if you have electric cars, could they not charge at peak times, but turn on quickly as the peak subsides rather than doing it on a crude timer (or, in the most optimistic scenario, turn around and return power to the grid at extreme peaks).. In principle, this could save trillions in new power stations and power distribution.

  • by Jagen ( 30952 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:12AM (#38156794) Homepage

    Firstly a lot of people in here seem to be confusing Smart Meters with Energy Monitors. The former replaces the old dial meter and it supposed to communicate with other meters in the area and/or directly with the energy supplier for billing and better tracking of consumption.

    Energy Monitors are those devices which clamp around lines by your meter and communicate to a box in your house giving you an idea of your realtime energy use.

  • by Neil Boekend ( 1854906 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @07:27AM (#38156854)
    Its a common enough tool for people who are to lazy to properly train their pet. The version I know is a wire in the ground that sends a low power radio signal and a collar that detects if it crosses the wire. If it does the pet gets a small electric shock.
    In my vieuw (and I have trained a dog to stay inside my parent's garden) this can't be a good thing: the dog gets punished without a clear reason (lazy people didn't take the time to make it clear to the dog it can't go into their flowerbeds). This can wreak havoc on the dog's simple "psyche": I'd expect some to grow fearfull of everything, some to grow extremely viscious and some to go completely beserk.
  • Re:2.4GHz? (Score:5, Informative)

    by inasity_rules ( 1110095 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:30AM (#38157094) Journal

    Money(SMS is extreme expensive comparatively). Latency. SMS delivery is not guaranteed by most networks. A number of other issues. Recently some of our customers decided they wanted to use our smart metering OPC server over GPRS. It is still not working (APN issues with the cell phone network), slow, and generally a pain. I'd much rather have the meters on 5GHz wifi. Even worse was the customer that tried to use 9600bps GSM. It cost them a fortune until they turned it off. And don't even talk to me about Power-Line transmission. I may kill you.

  • Re:Even better (Score:3, Informative)

    by perryizgr8 ( 1370173 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:32AM (#38157110)

    get this:
    connect it to any pair of speakers you want. get audio from any bluetooth device. and the sound quality is almost indistinguishable from direct connection. also, similar stuff from jabra, etc sounds tinny.

  • Re:Other stuff is OK (Score:4, Informative)

    by _Shad0w_ ( 127912 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @08:46AM (#38157170)

    Clocks also use a specific frequency for doing so, it's 60 kHz for the UK ones and I think the German one is 77 kHz (it's called DCF77 anyway). They're not exactly local transmissions - you can pick them up nearly 2000km away, afaicr.

    Unlike the 2.4 GHz band, those frequencies are reserved and licenced. 2.4 GHz is a free for all.

  • Re:Just a variant... (Score:4, Informative)

    by dkf ( 304284 ) <> on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:08AM (#38157254) Homepage

    Medical devices, except when ABSOLUTELY necessary, should NEVER be wireless.

    Where the device is designed to be embedded in someone's body, it absolutely SHOULD be wireless since that allows it to be used without having to route a wire past the skin. RFI is not nearly as big a problem as infection...

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

    by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @09:11AM (#38157272) Homepage

    Says the man that knows nothing at all about RF energy or FCC Type certification.

    If a device FAILS because of interference then the manufacturer made a giant steaming POS. Because the FCC certification for that type states clearly.

    the Device MUST accept any and all interference.

    Blame the moron RF engineers at GE,Sony,Panasonic,LG,etc... for using the china cheap RF modules instead of designing their own RF stage in house.

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

    by jenningsthecat ( 1525947 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:22AM (#38157744)

    Better design and manufacturing will help, but at some point we're simply running out of room in a given slice of spectrum. More complex modulation schemes, better-engineered RF stages, and things like TDMA and CDMA, along with more computing power, have resulted in huge improvements in efficient spectrum usage over the past few decades. But we're probably getting close to the limit of what can be done to shoehorn more data into a given bandwidth. Even if consumers are willing, (or forced), to pay more for better hardware, that only postpones the problem for a little while.

    Additionally, although the FCC says a device "must accept any and all interference", it does NOT say it "must accept any and all interference AND CONTINUE TO FUNCTION TO THE USER'S SATISFACTION". The FCC may have the power of law, but it has no power over the laws of physics.

  • by sFurbo ( 1361249 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:23AM (#38157746)
    A freezer doesn't need to be on continously. In case of power outage, it takes a couple of days before the food in a full freezer starts to thaw. Now, of course, you don't want it to go anywhere near that, but waiting a couple of hours to turn on the compressor normally won't take the food out of the safe temperature zone. As the GGP put it, the smart meter wont demand that the freezer turns off, but will let it know that it would be appreciated if it did not turn on. The freezer can then decide whether it can wait, or whether it is so hot that it needs to turn on.
  • by Dan Ost ( 415913 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @10:30AM (#38157798)

    IP over power lines is a horrible idea! The noise it creates across multiple bands is, quite frankly, illegal. Vendors made promises about keeping the noise within certain limits and they failed across the board. That's why IP over power lines is almost completely gone now.

    The sad thing is that it took the HAMs pointing out the violations to get the authorities to act.

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

    by BasilBrush ( 643681 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @11:10AM (#38158044)

    Wired mice have a big advantage on an untidy desk. You never lose the mouse. As long as it's not so untidy you lose the computer it's plugged in to...

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

    by travisco_nabisco ( 817002 ) on Thursday November 24, 2011 @12:41PM (#38158890)
    According to BC Hydro, the new smart meters we are getting only broadcast twice a day with each broadcast being less than 30 sec. I have no reason to not believe them, and have not had any wireless device issues in the 4 months since my neighbor hood got the smart meters. I suspect there are a lot of different models with a lot of different broadcast patterns and levels which makes this article way to general to be of any true use.

"Never face facts; if you do, you'll never get up in the morning." -- Marlo Thomas