Grid Net, the smart grid software maker, has officially moved beyond the wireless standard WiMAX and this morning announced that its software now supports the 4G wireless standard LTE (Long Term Evolution), the dominate next-gen wireless standard embraced by U.S. telcos. Grid Net in recent months has said that it is agnostic when it comes to connectivity, and will support anything from Ethernet to 3G cellular to ZigBee, but its first customers have largely been WiMAX providers.
The move shows a maturation of the startup, as well as a signal of how important cellular companies have become when it comes to the smart grid. In September Grid Net announced a partnership to work with Sprint’s 4G network, which is based on WiMAX. Startup SmartSynch has built a business around partnering with cellular providers, while market leader Silver Spring Networks also works with cellular providers.
4G is the next upgrade to the phone company’s wireless networks, which will deliver mobile data, cell phone web browsing and wireless downloading at speeds in the multiple Mbps range. Most carriers — Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile — have chosen Long Term Evolution (LTE) technology for their 4G networks, while Sprint, in collaboration with Clearwire, is working on delivering 4G via WiMAX.
Phone companies are offering up their networks to provide machine to machine services (M2M) like connecting smart grid devices, which are pretty easy to provide service for, compared to cellular consumers, which require significant customer support. While cellular networks have more commonly provided so-called backhaul for utilities’ smart grid networks (connecting a collection point on the grid back to the utility back office), cellular networks are also starting to be used to connect smart meters directly to utilities as well.
One reason WiMAX has been a way into the smart meter software market for Grid Net is because the technology has gotten to market more quickly than LTE. That was one reason Sprint invested in it. Vice President of Energy Markets for Americas for telco gear company Alcatel-Lucent, Mark Madden, told me in an interview that “many” of the 4G smart grid networks that the company is helping utility customers build right now are based on WiMAX.
Another potential benefit of WiMAX is that it is an open standard that could one day benefit from economies of scale, with heavyweights like Motorola, Intel and GE showing support for the technology. WiMAX was also the original vision from CEO and co-founder Ray Bell.
But some, like Madden, think that LTE is actually a better fit for smart grid networks. Madden told me that LTE can better 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,” Madden told me.
WiMAX has also kindof stalled in terms of a nationwide network in the U.S. for consumers. The smart grid is actually a bright spot for individual WiMAX networks.
Regardless of what will eventually be the dominant networking choice for the smart grid, Grid Net says it’s now agnostic. And more importantly, it’s clear that it no longer wants to be associated as “the WiMAX smart grid provider.”
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