Mobile companies heart the smart grid — it can offer stable revenue in a world in which cell phone customers can be pretty fickle. Yesterday two of the largest wireless players in the U.S., Qualcomm (s QCOM) and Verizon Wireless (s VZ), announced that they have teamed up on a new joint venture to deliver “machine-to-machine services,” which use wireless networks, sensors and software to monitor and manage systems, and which will include services for the smart grid (see our smart grid FAQ) and utilities.
Smart grid services are only part of the companies’ machine-to-machine plan, but the duo says their smart grid products could enable utilities to “wirelessly connect to their grid assets, such as circuit breakers, transformers and other sub-station equipment,” and create “interactive utility networks that are more intelligent, resilient, reliable and self-balancing.”
Tapping into the smart grid, which could be one of the largest creators of wealth in the next decade, is part of Verizon Wireless’ goal of more fully monetizing its high-speed wireless broadband networks. For Qualcomm, the move into smart grid technology will be about selling communication systems that can link the machine-to-machine services together. Both companies sell wireless services based on the wireless standard CDMA, so the partnership will help create an ecosystem around CDMA’s role in machine-to-machine services.
Cell phone companies could be poised to dominate the smart grid network market. According to GigaOM Pro and Pike Research (subscription required), cellular networks could eventually take the lead role as the wide area network of choice for the smart grid, at the meter level, neighborhood level and for mobile work force management. Vodafone (s vod) also recently launched a global M2M service platform which will help companies kick off and manage wireless M2M projects including “smart metering” and “connected cars.” Other phone companies like AT&T have moved aggressively into the smart grid space by partnering with startups like SmartSynch.
Utilities have several choices when it comes to choosing how to manage their smart grid systems: rent space on a cell phone company’s network, or build out a wireless network based on a variety of technologies, like wide area Wi-Fi, RF mesh, or even WiMAX. The phone companies and SmartSynch say it is cheaper and easier to just use a network that’s already built out.