By now you probably know what a smart meter is (if not click me first), but you might not be so familiar with how it all works. Below, we’ve put together a comprehensive guide that will hopefully clear up any questions you might have about smart meters. 

Quick links:

For the visual learners

Why not check out this official video posted by Smart Energy GB that gives a 1 minute round up of how it all works:

So, how does it all work, roughly?

There’s a super communications network that runs up and down the country called the Wide-Area Network, or WAN for short. This is totally separate to the mobile data network you pick up on your phone, or the broadband connection in your home. This network is managed by the Data Communications Company (DCC) and is supported by various Communication Service Providers (CSPs). Within this, the network is split into three different CSP regions; those being South, Central and North. 

Within each home that has a smart meter installed, they also have what we call a comms hub, or communications hub, or CH depending on who you’re speaking to. This comms hub is the link between the outside WAN and your personal Home-Area Network (HAN), and attaches to the top of your electricity meter.  

What we can see here is the outside WAN connection communicating with the comms hub, which in turn is talking to both meters and the IHD via the HAN connection. It’s this communication that allows for automatic meter reads to be sent straight from your smart meter(s) to our teams here at So Energy. 

In order to achieve smart serenity (as shown above), each of the smart devices we install must go through a process known as commissioning. It’s this process that enables each of the devices to communicate with one another, all while keeping your data safe & secure. 

The commissioning steps are triggered by our engineer when they come and install your smart meter(s) and usually go through without a fuss. That being said, there are times where our smart team may need to remotely intervene, just to nudge things along.

Commissioning deep(ish) dive

Want to learn more about commissioning? We won’t bore you with all of the details, but it’s worth highlighting that it’s quite a complex process. Essentially, there are various stages that each device needs to ‘pass’ through in order to be happy. These include handovers in the network, as well as over-the-air joins to link everything up. 

If for any reason a certain step in this process is failing to clear, our engineers will most likely reach out to us for remote support. We can then trigger the necessary fix that should enable them to have another go.  

Sadly, no matter how hard we try, there are occasional times where we are unable to push this process through. If this is the case, we will either look at getting you booked back in for another go (if this seems beneficial) or we may suggest another clever solution. Whatever the suggested route, we will make sure that you are comfortable reading your new meters manually in the meantime. You can also find more information on how to do this here.

No WAN

As you may have already guessed, like all connections, sometimes the signal either gets broken or in rare cases cannot be established at all. Before coming to install your smart meter(s), our installers will always run a street-level check to see whether there are WAN capabilities in your area. Should this test come back FALSE, we will notify both you and the DCC so that they can work hard to deliver a connection to you in the near future. 

It’s worth a mention that with the check being run at street-level, we may encounter signal issues if your meters are located either down in a basement or are surrounded by thick walls. If this is the case, we may need to set you up on manual meter reads until such time the overall network is boosted, or the range capability of the smart equipment becomes even more powerful.

Dropped off the HAN

You might see us reference this from time to time in our emails. Assuming that the WAN check comes back fine and we come and install some shiny new smart meters for you, we may still encounter a few bumps in the road. Typically, these issues either tend to come from the initial commissioning process (mentioned above) or post-installation when the connection is finding its feet. This might look something like this:

If our engineer was able to set everything up correctly/complete the commissioning process, but the meters are failing to send us readings, it is likely that they have dropped off the Home-Area Network (HAN). To fix this, our teams are able to raise remote reboot requests (turning it off and on again) on your devices in an effort to get things going, all without having another site visit. Of course, in some cases this process might not always work, in which case we would look at getting you booked back in for a revisit. If this is the case, we will make sure that everyone is aware of what needs to be done!

In-Home Displays (IHDs) and what makes them tick

Some of the most common queries we receive around smart meters relate to in-home displays (IHDs), the little device that gives you a ‘pounds & pence’ view of your consumption in real time. We understand how valuable a working IHD can be, so will always do everything in our power to ensure yours is functioning, should you encounter any issues. 

When coming to install your smart meter(s), our engineer will commission your IHD for you and will walk you through how it all works. However, if you are experiencing any issues post-installation, you are more than welcome to have a play around with the location of the device to see what works best. It’s important to remember that:

  • The IHD talks to the comms hub that attaches to the electricity meter, so ideally they should be in close proximity (within 2-3m) of one another
  • If there are thick walls separating the IHD from the comms hub, you might experience connectivity issues
  • Your IHD is separate to your meter(s). If your IHD is not displaying any data, that doesn’t necessarily mean we aren’t getting smart reads remotely, it could just be that the HAN connection is being impacted

You can also check out our in-depth IHD support page here for more troubleshooting and guidance. 

In summary

We hope the above crash course in ‘how smart meters work’ either cleared up any questions you had, or maybe made things a bit clearer if you are considering an upgrade. Smart meters come with a whole heap of benefits, but if you’re still looking for more info why not check out some of the other smart support pages on our website: