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Companies are building out the smart grid with various broadband technologies — cellular, WiFi, WiMAX — so why not good ol’ DSL? For non-network geeks, that’s the high-speed broadband that your phone company offers over copper wire. This morning, smart grid sensor and software maker Current is touting a new smart grid partnership with DSL provider Qwest (s Q).
Current largely provides the sensors that monitor different conditions on the electrical network, like voltage and current, as well as the software that processes the sensor information for the utility customer. While Current is mostly focused on the distribution portion of the grid, it can also provide communication gear and sensors for smart meters and in-home gateways, which it is doing for Colorado utility Xcel Energy for its SmartGridCity rollout. Because Current needs to get its information back to the utility, it works with a number of companies that provide that network connection. The latest is Qwest, which Current started partnering with, and is currently working with, for Xcel Energy’s SmartGridCity plan (Qwest provides phone and broadband service in Colorado). The buildout of SmartGridCity is supposed to be completed soon, followed by an assessment of the network’s benefits.
What are the benefits of using DSL? Current’s senior vice president of business solutions, Mae Squier-Dow, says that because DSL is already widely available, using it speeds up the ability to deploy smart grid technology. And because the networks have already been built, she says, the option is more affordable for a utility than building out its own communications network. (Other companies argue that in the long run it’s cheaper to build and own the network). Since DSL is a proven technology, it can help smart grid projects gain access to stimulus funds meant for “shovel-ready” projects, Squier-Dow says.
DSL is also high-speed, so if utilities want to use the networks for more bandwidth-intensive services, they can. And DSL is based on Internet Protocol, so it can more easily connect with other IP-based networks and systems, which are ubiquitous. Ultimately DSL is a standard that’s been used for years, so utilities can be rest assured that the technology is highly reliable.
Anywhere that Qwest has DSL built out, Current can work with the network to connect to the utility. But Current also works with cellular, could work with cable (though Squier-Dow says it hasn’t yet done so) and even has its own broadband over powerline technology (BPL). At one point, Current was the poster child for BPL, but has more recently repositioned itself so that BPL is just one of its communication offerings.