It’s morning again in the utility industry. No longer hampered by historic economic models of “build, own, control and manage your own network,” utilities are waking up to the fact that public networks offer lower cost and greater coverage, bandwidth and security for smart grid deployments.
From rural to metropolitan areas, SmartSynch and other public wireless/cellular network companies have garnered utility customer testimonials and market research to prove that cellular networks supersede proprietary networks on several fronts. Here are 10 reasons that utilities want to use public networks for smart grid deployments.
1). Coverage: With a cellular network, utilities can effectively implement a multi‐network solution in their service territory – so even if one carrier doesn’t work, another can be used. It has been proven that commercial network carriers combined (not any one carrier) cover more than 97 percent of America’s population – and that is with voice – not the data network that transmits at a higher wattage with a more powerful antenna.
The data sent by a meter actually uses a fraction of the bandwidth of a cellular phone call, and the antenna on a meter is almost four times as powerful as that of a cell phone. The cellular carrier model appeals not only to large, investor-owned utilities in mainstream areas, but also to city-owned utilities in more rural areas such as the Griffin, Geordia, where 16,000 meters using SmartSynch’s technology were recently deployed. Also, a trial deployment of 10,000 smart meters by TNMP in 2009 resulted in a 99.96 percent positive and accurate daily read rate.
2). Flexibility to Upgrade: When a utility uses a commercial carrier for their smart grid network, the data being transmitted is not being interspersed with texts messages and phone calls, but rather through a dedicated network channel (which is like a private network already built‐out). As the network speed improves – and moves to 4G speeds and beyond – smart grid networks will reap the benefits by allowing utilities to deploy the latest and greatest technology available at any given time without investing in any additional network equipment.
3). Protection from Obsolescence: At the same time, utilities want to invest in a technology that has a life cycle that supports its business case – and the carriers understand this point. Most technologies are backwards-compatible, but we’ve put forth a model with the network carriers to ensure that technology obsolescence will not be a problem.
4). Cost: Until recently, a utility could not afford to use a commercial wireless carrier network as its primary network for the smart grid as it was too expensive to install a high‐speed, IP‐addressable endpoint for residential smart metering at every home. However, within the last few months, we’ve proven that assumption is no longer valid. It is dramatically less expensive for a utility to use a commercial network for its smart grid rollout than building, owning, controlling and managing its own proprietary network.
Rate plans have dropped to pennies per meter per month for some of our deployed smart meters. Carriers have dropped their rates by as much as 95 percent in the past 12 months. Over a 10-year period, some carriers estimate that the cost of a public smart grid network would be half the cost of a private network.
5). If it’s Good Enough for Obama’s Blackberry: Commercial network providers spend billions of dollars annually to maintain secure networks – and the same layer of fortification being used to secure SmartSynch’s smart grid devices is protecting the millions of daily financial transactions, military data transmissions and even the e‐mail on Obama’s Blackberry.
The level of security being deployed by the commercial carriers far exceeds the National Institute for Standards & Technology (NIST) requirements and is constantly improving as the ecosystem of vendors supporting the billions of devices on commercial carrier networks continually enhance security protocols. Also, by leveraging the bandwidth of commercial networks, IPSec and other high-bandwidth security algorithms can be implemented that are not possible on a narrowband or 900 MHz (private) network.
6). Do utilities want more IT responsibility? Since public networks already exist, they provide a greater ROI to utilities than proprietary networks (which will inevitably require costly technology upgrades and equipment replacements). Using cellular networks now cost utilities dramatically less than the “build, own, control and manage your own network” model they have come to accept. Utilities are less and less likely to want control over the communication system of their grid.
7). Regulation Back Up: With cellular networks representing one of the biggest networks in the world, there is a strong group of policy makers developing standards. Additionally, ratepayers partially fund cellular network technologies so why should they pay twice for a separately driven (private) infrastructure? The better question is can a private network meet the standards of regulators?
8). Bandwidth Flexibility: If every water, gas and electric meter in the U.S. (about 300 million meters) transmitted a day’s worth of its 15-minute interval data, it would amount to an increase of less than 2/1000th of 1 percent (specifically 0.00018 percent) in the amount of data that a carrier like AT&T currently transfers across its network on a daily basis. There is more than sufficient bandwidth for the needs of meters.
9). Peace of mind: SmartSynch has engineered intelligence into our cellular network-compatible devices, and the devices know when there’s a major outage and what to do. Looking at prior natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, cellular was back on its feet and operational within days. Meanwhile, most private network infrastructure was ruined and took a long time to be reconstructed. If you compare cellular network connections to private network connections in this instance, there’s no comparison.
10). Video, Voice, Data: When a utility uses a commercial carrier for their smart grid network, the data being transmitted is not being interspersed with texts messages and phone calls, but rather through a dedicated network channel (which is like a private network already built‐out). As the network speed improves – and moves to 4G speeds and beyond – smart grid networks reap the benefits by allowing utilities to deploy the latest and greatest technology available at any given time without investing in any additional network equipment.
Now that public wireless/cellular network technology has become cost competitive, it’s hard to envision a utility choosing a more complex, costly and proprietary alternative. In this new smart grid era, as Pike Research reported last week, “the future of the smart grid clearly lies with IP.”
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Image courtesy of Nikhil Verma.