A smart grid powered by the wireless standard WiMAX has made major strides in the U.S. this week. GE announced that it would work on one of the first smart grid pilot programs based on WiMAX in the U.S. with Michigan utility Consumers Energy. At the same time, WiMAX smart meter startup Grid Net announced that networking giant Cisco has taken an equity investment in the company.

Wow, a smart grid powered by the wireless standard WiMAX has made major strides in the U.S. this week. First General Electric, which makes smart meters, announced this morning that it would work on one of the first smart grid pilot programs based on WiMAX in the U.S. with Michigan utility Consumers Energy. At the same time, WiMAX smart meter startup Grid Net announced that networking giant Cisco has taken an equity investment in the company.

WTF is WiMAX? It’s a high-speed wireless technology that service providers are using for the next generation of broadband services. It competes with a high-speed wireless technology being deployed by cell phone companies called Long Term Evolution, or LTE. The benefits of WiMAX for the smart grid are that it can provide a lot of bandwidth for applications like mobile workforce and can potentially be really cheap in the future because it’s an open standard and has a growing ecosystem of large manufacturing partners including GE, Motorola (MOT) and Intel.

Four-year-old smart meter software maker Grid Net has been one of the chief proponents of a WiMAX smart grid, and the company tells us it has been working on the Michigan pilot with GE and Consumers Energy for some time. We should probably get ready to see more of these utility deals from Grid Net. Last week Grid Net brought on a high profile hire: Former Austin Energy CIO Andres Carvallo, architect of one of the first smart grids in the U.S. and the man who says he coined the term “the smart grid” itself.

The news that Grid Net has received an equity stake from Cisco, changes the landscape of the smart grid infrastructure players. Cisco moved into the smart grid networking infrastructure market last year and at the time CEO John Chambers told the Wall Street Journal that the company had an unlimited budget for smart grid initiatives.

But it has been unclear exactly what Cisco would be selling for the smart grid — at the GreenBeat conference last year Cisco’s Senior Vice President of the Smart Grid, Laura Ipsen, said that Cisco planned to launch some products directly in the smart grid market early this year. However, Ipsen acknowledged at that point at the end of 2009 Cisco was “zero for zero” in terms of smart grid products and revenue. (Laura Ipsen will be speaking at our Green:Net conference on April 29)

Cisco’s investment in Grid Net gives it another tool in its arsenal as a way into the smart grid network market. It’s interesting that Cisco has seemed to move away from WiMAX in other parts of its business, confirming with reporters earlier this month that it would quit the WiMAX radio access network business and would no longer make WiMAX base stations, but would still sell WiMAX edge products like Wi-Fi and femtocells to WiMax customers.

The company that could be the most affected by the Cisco/Grid Net move is smart grid infrastructure player Silver Spring Networks. As the first to move into the smart grid networking space Silver Spring has been dominating the market, snagging utility deals and planning on an IPO this year. Cisco has been one of Silver Spring’s chief rivals, despite the fact that Cisco has been a sleeping giant in this market.

There’s a long history between Grid Net and Silver Spring. As I explained in this early post on Grid Net, Grid Net’s founder and CEO Ray Bell was a former Cisco networking exec, an entrepreneur-in-residence at Foundation Capital, and became Silver Spring Networks CEO in 2003. Bell hired current Silver Spring CEO Scott Lang, but then left Silver Spring in 2005 over what he told me was “a different strategic opinion for how the smart grid should evolve.”

Grid Net has been on a tear as of late and the WiMAX smart grid seem as close to reality as ever. Last week the Federal Communications Commission announced recommendations to Congress, which included that the smart grid should embrace commercial networks and broadband, and be able to provide real-time energy data to consumers.

For more related research on GigaOM Pro check out (subscription required):

New Opportunities in the Smart Grid

The Developer’s Guide to Home Energy Management Apps

  1. Hello, Katy:

    I’m a Consumers Energy customer here in Michigan, and live about 20 miles from their HQ in Jackson. I’ve been reading about their smartgrid project for several months but have a few privacy concerns (not to mention the possibility of having my AC shut off on the hottest day in August). While I’m interested in finding out peak/off peak usage I do have one issue — CE would be hooking their meter, which is on the back of my house, up to a WiMAX network, yet I don’t have internet access to anyone except VZW? I spent two long, slow, latency-filled FAPped years with Wildblue and there’s no way I’ll put up with a 5G cap once my Alltel grandfathered (TRUE unlimited) contract expires. Can you understand why I’m a bit frustrated? I know it’s not CE’s fault, bit I wish I could somehow legally piggyback on their grid. ;-)

    1. Shell,

      I definately do understand your frustrations on internet caps, although a 5GB cap is a pretty generous cap for a 24 hour period. If you are an average internet user (or even above average) there is no way you are going over that cap. To add to your comment about WildBlue and satellite internet I actually run a blog dedicated to satellite internet, just search google for MyBlueDish. Having said that, I know that there are going to be some major advancements in satellite internet withing the nextyear. We should be seeing speeds up to 8mbps at very affordable rates from satellite internet providers very soon.

  2. Shell,

    one thing seems clear, that effective energy demand management is all about choice. Title 24 regs in CA were instantly repealed after consumers demanded choice. the choice to either save money/reduce carbon emissions or to enjoy the AC on a hot day. markets will dictate demand response, not governments.

    in addition, a compelling aspect of building broadband last-mile utility networks is just what you ask for: the ability to simultaneously build a smarter, cleaner grid while also bridging the digital divide. open standards-based wireless broadband technologies such as WiMAX and LTE provide not only range (10s of kms) but Quality of Service, so that a load shed signal gets through to your AC (should you choose to honor it!) even when your neighbor is streaming hi-def video. wireless broadband provides cost-effective socio-economic benefits of increased information access in rural areas where cable is not economically feasible and DSL is not technically feasible. further, precedence exists for the leasing of (energy)rate-based assets in most regulated utility service territories, and utilities and network service providers often have many compelling synergies (spectrum, right-of-way, fiber, etc).

    Should you so desire I encourage you to discuss your thoughts with your local government representatives and encourage them to help their constituency realize the full benefits of the next major network build out.

  3. Hi Shell,

    Interesting thought. I wonder for communities that don’t have adequate broadband access already, if the utility would be interested in offering communications services along with their smart grid?

  4. Marjorie Wertz Friday, March 26, 2010

    I live in Burlington, MI and have tried unsuccessfully to get a continuous connection above and beyond dial up. I finally gave up after a dish satellite person was here for six hours trying to get a signal. He finally gave up, offered to come back with a co-worker but said the software did not always worked even though the companies claimed it did. Lots of dropped packets.

    I am jealous of Nigeria and especially Korea that is 95 percent wired.

  5. [...] Net. In the last six months Grid Net has landed some utility contracts and claimed two coups — an equity investment from Cisco and the hiring of Andres Carvallo, a well-known smart grid executive from Austin Energy, as its new [...]

  6. thomas mince Friday, April 9, 2010

    Will you please explain to me, in plain English, what the “smart grid” is, and what it does.

     Thankyou, Tom Mince
  7. [...] The U.S. WiMAX Smart Grid: Cisco Backs Grid Net, Michigan Pilot [...]

  8. [...] U.S. WiMAX Smart Grid: Cisco Backs Grid Net, Michigan Pilot” Earth2tech -25/03/10 – http://earth2tech.com/2010/03/25/the-u-s-wimax-smart-grid-cisco-backs-grid-net-michigan-pilot/   “What can WiMAX bring to smart grid program?”: Networkworld –  29/03/10 [...]

  9. [...] invests in smart meter maker Grid Net, which has a first product built on [...]

  10. [...] also recently made an investment in Grid Net, which builds smart meter software based around IP, and its first products have been based on the [...]


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