A wide area communications network communicating data from a plurality of network service modules through a plurality of remote cell nodes and intermediate data terminals to a central data terminal. The wide area communications network collects network data generated by a plurality of physical devices such as gas, water or electricity meters, located within a geographical area. The wide area communications network is a layered network having a hierarchical communications topology. The central data terminal controls network operation. Intelligence exists at all layers of the network, thereby easing the workload of the central data terminal. The intelligence attributed to each module is a function of the application of that module.