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Utility companies (electricity, gas, and water suppliers), governments, and researchers have been urging to deploy communication-based systems to read meters, known as automatic meter reading (AMR). An AMR system is envisaged to bring on benefits to customers, utilities, and governments. The advantages include reducing peak demand for energy, supporting the time-of-use concept for billing, enabling customers to make informed decisions, and reducing the cost of meter reading, to name a few. A key element in an AMR system is communications between meters and utility servers. Though several communication technologies have been proposed and implemented at a small scale, with the wide proliferation of wireless communication, it is the right time to critique the old proposals and explore new possibilities for the next generation AMR. We provide a comprehensive review of the AMR technologies proposed so far. Next, we present how future AMRs will benefit from third generation (3G) communication systems, the DLMS/COSEM (Data Language Messaging Specification/Companion Specification for Energy Metering) standard and Internet Protocol-based SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) signaling at the application level. The DLMS/COSEM standard provides a framework for meters to report application data (i.e. meter readings) to a utility server in a reliable manner. The SIP protocol is envisaged to be used as the signaling protocol between application entities running on meters and servers. The DLMS/COSEM standard and the SIP protocol are expected to provide an application level communication abstraction to achieve reliability and scalability. Finally, we identify the challenges at the application level that need to be tackled. The challenges include handling failure, gathering meter data under different time constraints (ranging from real-time to delay-tolerance), disseminating (i.e., unicasting, multicasting, broadcasting, and geocasting) control data to the meters, and achieving secure c ommunication.