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Utilities Turning to WiMAX for 4G Smart Grid Now

Will the smart grid be the savior of the wireless standard WiMAX? When it comes to the next-generation of wireless broadband known as 4G, WiMAX has generally been taking a back seat to the more telco-friendly LTE (or long term evolution). But in an interview with Mark Madden, Vice President of Energy Markets for Americas for telco gear company Alcatel-Lucent (s ALU), he tells me that “many” of the 4G smart grid networks that the company is helping utility customers build right now are based on WiMAX.

Why? Because it’s available now. Whereas LTE won’t be available to utilities for quite some time. And the $4 billion in smart grid stimulus funds have injected a sense of urgency for utilities to use those funds now, rather than wait many months down the road. Madden says that Alcatel-Lucent is working with utilities like Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Pennsylvania Power & Light (s PPL) on WiMAX-based smart grid networks. Alcatel-Lucent doesn’t actually make all of the WiMAX smart grid gear for these networks, but works as a network provider and integrator.

Madden tells me that he thinks that LTE is actually a better fit for smart grid networks, because of some technical features, like that LTE can prioritize certain traffic, and can work with both mobile and fixed networks. Eventually we think utilities will turn to LTE for the smart grid, “it’s a perfect fit actually,” says Madden. But in the mean time WiMAX seems to be the 4G network standard of choice because of its availability.

It’s not unusual for large injections of government funding to shift markets like this. The $4 billion in smart grid stimulus funds is such a large amount of money compared to the little money that has been historically spent on the nascent topic of adding IT to the power grid, that it has simultaneously both stalled and in some cases sped up utility buying habits. And because the smart grid industry is so new, the standards making process was also fundamentally sped up, too.

For the case of WiMAX, which hasn’t delivered on many of its wireless broadband ambitions, the stimulus funds for the smart grid could be one of its saviors.

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Image courtesy of ImagineWiMAX