Submetering, Automatic Meter Reading (AMR), and Hardware Considerations

How does automated meter reading work?

Submetering, also known as automatic meter reading (AMR), is the most accurate solution available for multifamily housing utility billing. An automated meter reading system typically includes the following hardware components: Utility meters, transmitters, repeaters, a gateway, and billing software, operating as shown in Figure 1 below, to collect data and provide billing information for water consumption and other utilities. 


Does your submetering provider professionally install your wireless hardware with a certified technician? The wireless technology used for submetering systems, typically 900 MHz frequency-hopping spread spectrum, is the ideal radio frequency (RF) protocol for this application. It was developed to send small packets of information across long distances, with a signal that can effectively cover commercial construction environments. But the system must be installed with some care to ensure effective operation.

Certified technicians understand installation best practices. For example, transmitters must be placed away from metal, protected from the elements and properly connected to compatible meters. Likewise, because repeaters hear a transmitter’s signal and boost it to ensure the message reaches the gateway, many assume that more repeaters are always better. But overpopulating a site with repeaters can lead to too many messages bouncing back and forth, ultimately resulting in dropped messages. Gateways also require careful placement, again avoiding metal and other RFemitting hardware. The best way to make sure your system is installed in a way that provides the best results is to ensure the hardware is installed by a certified technician. If the hardware manufacturer does not offer a certification program, you should ask your submetering service provider to find one that does.

Life Expectancy

At Inovonics, some of our submetering systems have been in place for decades and still function. But the reality is that messaging technology is advancing faster than it takes for the hardware to wear out. Meaning that a property owner may end up with a system reliant upon underlying technology that’s not as efficient and effective as it could be.

The most visible example lies in submetering systems that rely on modem rather than IP connectivity. Back in 1997, when Inovonics launched its first submetering system, a modem was cutting edge. Today submetering systems that still rely on modems are slow and inflexible when compared to IP-based solutions. Make sure to understand your hardware’s life expectancy and how the manufacturer supports updates. Further, plan your budgets accordingly to account for ongoing hardware refreshes across your portfolio. You’ll continue to benefit from what submetering systems have to offer when not get locked into technological dead ends.


The submetering system you deploy is only as accurate as the meters to which the transmitters are connected. The transmitters will continue to do their job of counting pulses regardless of whether the meter is providing accurate data or not. So while considering life expectancy for the submetering hardware, it’s also a good idea to think about meter life expectancy. As the meter ages, you might not recover all the utility costs you should. Which, after all, is what a submetering system is supposed to do.


The hardware devices that compose a submetering system are all comprised of electrical components. The more complicated the hardware, the more things that can go wrong. The good news is that the job a submetering system performs is pretty simple: It provides water, electrical, and gas usage data for a billing system to generate a utility bill. The best submetering solutions will focus on what’s required to perform the job. Be wary of bells and whistles which will do little more than increase the price and introduce new points of failure.

IP Connectivity

We live in the age of the cloud. For a submetering system, this means that reads data can now be aggregated at the portfolio level and accessed anywhere there is a reliable Internet connection. The operative word though is reliable. To illustrate the point, consider a high-performance sports car that can’t find the highway on-ramp, or better yet, is stuck in a parking lot. Similarly, an IP-based submetering system that can’t reliably connect to the Internet is of little value when you need to bill your tenants. Ensuring a professional installation will alleviate this issue. A certified installer will be familiar with the minimum requirements needed for reliable IP connectivity.

Battery Requirements

Even the highest performing wireless transmitter will need new batteries once in a while. But because you want to disrupt tenants as infrequently as possible, long battery life is a key requirement. For that reason, here are some questions to ask your submetering provider:

  • How do you know when batteries are running low?
  • Will they take care of it as part of a maintenance agreement or is it something you’re responsible for?
  • If they’re responsible, how will they gain access to a tenant’s apartment?
  • If you’re responsible, what’s the battery life and how much do they cost to replace?

Battery Backup

Power outages are a fact of life, and while submetering transmitters are typically battery-powered, repeaters and gateways require line power. Moreover, IP connectivity may not be available during a power outage. To ensure that customers can be billed for utility usage during a power outage, make sure you understand the back-up capabilities of your hardware. Is there a back-up battery? If so, how long will it last? If IP connectivity is interrupted during a power outage, can cellular be deployed as a back-up connectivity option?


A multifamily submetering system relies upon a wireless platform. If you’ve decided to invest in the wireless platform for submetering, it’s a good idea to ask yourself what else you might want to monitor across your properties that could run on the same platform.

Examples include:

  • Detecting standing water from leaking hot water heaters, appliances or sinks.
  • Monitoring vacant units for mold conditions or excessively high/low temperatures.
  • Safeguarding air conditioning units from copper theft.
  • Receiving pipe freeze warnings.

Once the wireless platform is in place, make sure the hardware your submetering provider recommends can do more than just support submetering. In this way, you’ll maximize the return you get on your hardware investment.

Commonly Asked Questions

What is the difference between AMR and RUBS?

As a property owner or manager, there are cases where ratio utility billing systems, or RUBS, make sense and cases where automatic meter reading systems, or AMR, is a better fit. AMR is an advanced meter reading that more accurately and fairly bills tenants for their water use. According to the National Apartment Association (NAA), residents who pay their water through submetering or AMR, consume up to 39% less than those whose water costs are included in their rent. If the 25 million apartments in the US implemented submetering, or automating meter reading (AMR), of water, up to 500 billion gallons of water could be saved annually, saving owners and residents as much as $3 billion annually.  Choosing automatic meter reading (AMR) means far more accuracy and efficiency in submetering billing.

RUBS refers to a ratio utility billing system and is often used when a property does not want to invest in a submetering or automatic reading system.  Using this practice a total of all utility data is collected for the entire building and divided among all residents usually based on their square footage or occupancy, regardless of their individualized use of utilities.  

What are the Benefits of an Automatic Meter Reading System?

Property Owner Benefits: Flexibility in Choosing a Billing Provider

With over 2 million Inovonics pulse meter transmitters installed since 1997, Inovonics is not only the wireless multifamily submetering systems pioneer but also the most widely deployed system in the United States and Canada. Property owners get the accurate utility billing that their tenants require and the flexibility to work with a broad portfolio of the nation’s leading billing providers, backed by a nationwide network of trained technicians.

Billing Provider Benefits: Submetering or Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) System Reliability

With decades of proven performance, operating in thousands of properties, Inovonics has set the standard for wireless multifamily submetering services. With Inovonics, billing providers can focus on their billing application and not the hardware.

At Inovonics, we pioneered AMR over two decades ago. More property owners rely on our TapWatch® submetering systems than any other provider in the market. We’re proud to help provide tools for users to easily and honestly bill utility consumption data. If you’re thinking about making the change to an AMR, we look forward to working with you.

Inovonics, 2020, All Rights Reserved

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