Many utilities across the United States have undertaken Grid Modernization and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) programs since the launch of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 2009.

Despite the completion of several deployments, many high-rise urban areas have yet to be deployed. These areas pose a variety of challenges for utilities due to the landscape, building characteristics, radio frequency (RF) dead zones and other factors. This article highlights the challenges and the lessons learned from an AMI deployment in one of the largest urban areas of the United States.

By: Edison Kociu and Justin Licke

AMI Deployment already presents a challenge to utilities that are not plagued with urban canyons and skyscrapers. During a typical AMI deployment, utilities can capitalize on their rights of way (ROW) in communities for poles, substations and other infrastructure. Essential network equipment can be mounted on existing utility infrastructure to create a mesh network. The utility can then perform the necessary customer outreach to notify the customers the need for access to the meter and schedules meter replacement. To complicate matters, high-rise urban areas have underground meters, different size meters and higher count of meters in smaller places, and tend to have limited above ground ROW resources to mount telecommunications equipment. In these cases, utilities are faced with replacing meters for a large concentration of diverse customers in a small area. Customers could range from residences to high profile corporations, financial and government institutions with a variety of meter types based on the age of the building and construction features. The materials and layout of large urban construction present challenges for AMI communications especially with meters located in underground locations.

In a recent high rise deployment, West Monroe helped a client successfully deploy meters through a five step approach:

  • Phase I – Strategy Development: Establish overall vision for execution, key performance indicators (KPI), budget, customer outreach and cross-collaboration across utility organizations
  • Phase II – Pilot Program: Design, deploy, analyze and document lessons learned from a select set of buildings
  • Phase III – Overall AMI Mesh Network Design and Planning: Baseline analysis and propagation modeling of entire high-rise footprint leveraging network resources established in the pilot program
  • Phase IV – Pre-planning for Deployment: Develop overall strategy, refine network design, finalize customer outreach, establish a RF dead zone remediation process
  • Phase V – Full Deployment: Execution of plans defined in Phase III and IV across the city with continuous analysis to measure and mitigate deployment issues

West Monroe coordinated the project across multiple organizations within the utility, as well as vendors and external stakeholders. West Monroe worked with the client to establish the strategy and key performance indicators (KPIs) to monitor program health, and performed cost and benefit analysis, network modeling and overall vendor and program management throughout the five phases of the deployment in the high rise area. Each phase of the project was presented with a unique set of challenges to the utility, which sought to tackle them while minimizing customer impact and maximizing customer service and satisfaction. Below we will look at four major areas of lessons learned in more detail: Overall Strategy, Organizational Structure, Process Development and Technology Deployment.

The first step to success for our AMI deployment high rise program was developing a comprehensive strategy and vision with measurable KPIs.  The overall strategy should incorporate the leadership expectations and the input of identified stakeholders. All stakeholders and organizations, including those with minor roles or those involved only in the later stages of the project, should be engaged early and often to define responsibilities. This was a major lesson learned from our project in developing a scope, schedule, budget, expectations and establishing a culture of collaboration and teamwork with a shared vision of success.

Large projects like the AMI deployment in high rise areas impact a large number of internal utility organizations. A key lesson learned is to establish an open, active and transparent communication process between the utility organizations, project team and outside vendors. In our scenario, a leadership team with representation from AMI network deployment, smart meter deployment, and West Monroe project management was put in place early to promote cross team coordination and transparency.

Lessons learned were also gleaned relating to process development. The strategy for deploying technology and meters in the high rise area can vary from building to building. Larger buildings require more materials, coordination and time than others. It is essential to create and implement a scalable and adaptive network and meter deployment process that could be used for all buildings. This approach should encompass how materials are delivered, how appointments are scheduled, how customer communications are handled and how issues are address with minimal customer impact. In our project we piloted several different building type and incorporated lessons learned to build robust scalable and adaptive processes for a successful deployment.

The landscape and lack of overhead utility infrastructure within the high rise area created many network RF dead-zone challenges for the utility. Developing specialized solutions is key to deploying a successful mesh network. Utilities can create a technical toolkit with locally adapted solution options. During the pilot, the utility and West Monroe project team analyzed the challenges of the small-scale deployment and partnered to develop a total of ten solutions to address all the different challenges and scenarios.

Finally, it is important to note that deployment in high rise urban areas is not typical for utilities. Utilities with these challenging landscapes in their service territory need to take a proactive approach to plan and strategize for a successful AMI deployment with minimal customer impact. If you would like to learn more about challenging AMI deployments and how we might be able to help you with your diverse coverage territories, please feel free to contact our team.

Edison Kociu is a senior consultant in the West Monroe’s Energy & Utilities Practice. Edison is focused in the areas of Grid Modernization, Advanced Metering Infrastructure planning and deployment and Telecommunications. Edison can be contacted at

Justin Licke is an experienced consultant in the West Monroe’s Energy & Utilities Practice. Justin is focused in the areas of Corporate Sustainability, Grid Modernization, and Telecom Network Infrastructure planning and deployment. Justin can be contacted at