Where Can WiMAX Catch a Break? The Smart Grid

[qi:_earth2tech] WiMAX might be losing attention and mindshare from telcos in the U.S., but it’s another story entirely when it comes to that oh-so-buzzy sector the smart grid. Utilities across the globe are increasingly starting to test WiMAX-based smart grid networks, and this morning we have news of a major commercial deployment from a utility Down Under. Australian utility SP AusNet says it’s building out its own WiMAX-based network using smart meter software from startup Grid Net, WiMAX-based smart meters from GE (with an Intel chip inside) and WiMAX networking gear from Motorola.

SP AusNet’s John Steel said the utility chose WiMAX in general and Grid Net’s technology in particular because it wanted to build a network based on open standards, one that’s interoperable with a wide range of technologies. And by building the network itself rather than going with a WiMAX service provider, the company would get a more secure network that would be cost-effective in the long run. Building it will cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he noted.

Other utilities in the U.S., including CenterPoint, National Grid, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison are looking at ways to use WiMAX in smart grid deployments. SDG&E, for example, wants to use WiMAX for 30 percent of the network where higher bandwidth is required for applications like collecting large amounts of data on voltage, current and frequency in real time.

Grid Net’s other partners include Landis+Gyr, Cisco, Clearwire and Unwired Australia. The group is betting that the price point of WiMAX gear will come down dramatically if the technology gains traction. Grid Net CEO Ray Bell told us that WiMAX chipsets currently cost around $36, but predicted that in a year they’ll be closer to $12, and in another six months they could go as low as $8 or even $6.

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