Steamboat Springs As they ramp up efforts to replace thousands of old water meters in Steamboat Springs with new wireless models, city officials say the new meters are producing the expected benefits without causing any interference with wireless Internet connections.
But the heads of two local broadband providers said Monday that it's still too early to tell whether the rollout of the new meters will cause signal interference for a small contingent of their customers.
The owners of Zirkel Wireless and Resort Broadband said last month that because the meters the city is installing will beam their readings through the same unlicensed frequency some of their customers use to access the Internet, interference could become a problem for both sides.
Public Works Director Chuck Anderson told the Steamboat Springs City Council last week that more than 200 meters have been installed so far, and none of them are experiencing any interference. He said installers are increasing the average number of meters they install each day and the city is hoping to complete the project by March.
Steamboat Water District Utilities Superintendent Joe Zimmerman said late last week the update of the meters was off to a good start.
“We are now reading and billing by this new meter infrastructure,” he said. “If there is an error such as a leak or anything else, it sends us a coded error message on a daily basis so immediately we know something is going on.”
He said the ability of the new meters to send the error codes wirelessly could save homeowners money and conserve water by instantly detecting leaks or water sources that are left on unintentionally.
As for the potential interference from the new technology, Zimmerman said he doesn't have any concerns.
“I'm basing that on the due diligence and homework we did before we went down this road,” he said. “I just don't think (the interference) is going to be there.”
The city has purchased a device it can use to measure the saturation of wireless signals.
City officials also said that before they signed off on the new technology, they used a tech consultant who checked with cities like Durango and Silverthorne and confirmed that their smart meters, which also run on unlicensed frequencies, have not caused any significant issues related to signal interference.
Zirkel Wireless owner Sean Heskett said Monday that with just a fraction of the 3,200 new meters installed, it's too early to tell whether that will be the case in Steamboat.
He said about 100 of his customers are using the same frequency the new meters are using, and the company has started moving a small number of those customers to a different one just in case.
“It's just wait and see right now,” he said. “Luckily it's a very small percentage of our users that could be affected. But the unfortunate thing is these 100 customers are on this system because they're on a very difficult spot to receive Internet.”
Heskett said he doesn't think any interference will show up instantly, but it could still become a problem and cause slowdowns once more devices come online.
The potential interference would impact only wireless Internet service providers like Zirkel Wireless and Resort Broadband and not cable or DSL Internet service providers like Comcast and CenturyLink. Wireless Internet service providers, or WISPs, commonly serve rural areas that lack cable and digital subscriber lines, or DSL.
This year, the city raised its water and sewer rates to pay for the $1 million water meter upgrade project as well as millions of dollars worth of other capital projects to improve water and sewer infrastructure. This year’s rate increase is the second of a three-year increase schedule.
The city's water district customers can call 970-367-6600 to schedule an appointment to have their old water meter replaced.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com