Monday, July 18, 2016

How Smart Meters Transmit

Why This Matters
Hot Spots and Amplification

Here is a picture of what most people think of when they think of smart-meter signaling. One meter on a house, a little burst a few times a day that travels in a straight line. This is the kind of thing the utility companies show you, convincing you, “Oh, it’s just one little meter. No big deal.” In fact, the meters do not spread the radiofrequency waves in a straight line, as this picture would imply. Rather, the waves radiate from their source in all directions. 24/7. It’s not just the person standing in the red line that will get a dose of RF.

This picture represents the incorrect notion most people have about microwave transmission from smart meters. Smart meters are in fact emitting radiation 24/7 for 2 or more miles.

Here’s a picture of just three smart meters communicating with each other. The red dots represent meters. (For the time being, you can ignore the red and blue lines in the picture.)


Notice that the meters send out microwave radiation in all directions, which is represented here by the large circles. If we could show you this in three dimensions, the circles would become globes. Where the microwaves (radiofrequency signals) sent out by meters overlap, there are hot-spots of higher-than-expected radiation. The meters can transmit a strong signal for two miles, so these circles represent only a fraction of the actual transmission distance. Keep in mind that many homes have more than one meter, and in addition there are smart gas meters and, in many places, smart water meters, all of which are also transmitting 24/7.

The picture below shows you what it’s really like. Each one of these circles (globes) you see on this picture is pulsing in millisecond blasts. If people could see this—if it were like smoke, or smog—we’d be cleaning it up right away! In fact, it’s know as electro-smog. Dr. Karl Maret calculated in 2010 that background RF radiation had increased 20,000 times since 1980. With the widespread introduction of smart meters across the country in the last few years, that number has increased exponentially. If people could see this—if it were like smoke, or smog—we’d be cleaning it up right away! In fact, it’s known as electro-smog.

Smart meter electrosmog, represented by the large red circles. The small circles represent meters. Many houses have more than one electric meter, in addition to smart gas and water meters, as well as Wi-Fi.
Let’s take a moment to learn about collector meters, meter chatter, and mesh networks because they have important implications for health. As we mentioned, smart meters send information (data on your electricity usage) to the utility about 6 times a day. However, the meters are chattering with (talking to) one another constantly, comprising what is known as a mesh network. It is this “chatter” (incessant signaling) that accounts for the 9,600 to 190,000 transmissions per day. Unlike a cell-phone network, which has large antennas that capture and transmit data, with individual phones moving around and connecting to the closest antenna in order to utilize the network, a mesh network has no centralized antennas. Every meter in the network can connect to every other one.  A DTE employee has told us that one in every 17 or so homes or office buildings is the collection point for all the meter transmissions in an area. As this employee put it, “We know the person who has a collecting meter on their home is going to have a funeral coming up soon.”
Representation of meters signalling to each other. Signals can travel meter to meter (represented by the red lines), or a meter can skip many meters (the latter represented by the green line). One or more of these meters is a collector meter, which receives many more signals than the other meters because it is the “gathering point” that meters send their data to. The collector meter then sends data to a data collection unit, which is often mounted on a telephone pole. Meters chatter with each other 24/7. This picture cannot even begin to represent the multitude of signals. At the same time that all this is happening, the data collection unit and collector meter may be sending signals back to the meters (singals back represented by the red lines).
 

DTE data collection unit or relay station mounted on a telephone pole. Note the antenna.



The meters send their data to a collector meter—which is mounted on someone’s home—by passing it meter to meter. The collector meter gathers all the data in the area and sends it to a data collection unit, which is often mounted on a telephone pole. The closer your meter is to the collector, the more transmissions—pulses of radiation—you are receiving each day. Keep in mind, the meters are chattering with one another constantly. And not just with one meter—with multiple. So there are transmissions far and beyond what is represented in the picture—a single transmission could actually consist of 80 queries. Multiply that by 40 or so meters, and you have 3200 “single” transmissions. Multiply that by 190,000. You see where that leads. The collector meter asks another meter for data. It is querying meters constantly. There can be 40 meters in a network, which means it could be querying 40 meters every few seconds.  Each meter sends its data to the meter closest to it, then that one to the next one, etc. So a single transmission could consist of up to 80 queries (40 x 2 = [the query x 40] + [the signal back x 40]). The meter closest to the collector would only have to send its query to the collector, so it has 2 transmissions per query. BUT—the meter closest to the collector is receiving all the other signals.

Signals can travel meter to meter (represented by the blue lines), or a meter can skip many meters (the latter represented by the green line). This picture cannot even begin to represent the multitude of signals.

At the same time that all this is happening, the data collection unit and collector meter may be sending signals back to the meters (represented by the red lines).

In addition to the RF from your smart meter and all the other meters in your city, you are getting dosed with microwave radiation from the ZigBee wireless radio that connects with all the “smart” appliances DTE and the appliance manufacturers hope you will soon be buying. This Zigbee is not turned off, so radio-off opt-out meter is a misnomer. We’ll talk about the privacy implications of this later. The Zigbee radio sends RF signals into your home, polling your smart appliances in the same way DTE smart meters poll the other meters in the neighborhood. If you have a smart meter, all this data can potentially be sent back to the utility, letting them know what kinds of appliances you have in your home and when and how you use them. Learn more on our Privacy page. The Zigbee also connects with your gas meter. The 2.4 GHz that it operates at is harmful to health.