LTE Coming Soon to the Smart Grid


The next-generation wireless broadband technology Long Term Evolution (or LTE), might not be available to the utility world just yet, but that isn’t stopping a handful of vendors touting smart grid network technologies based on LTE. At the smart grid conference DistribuTECH in San Diego next week Alcatel Lucent (s ALU) and Tantalus plan to show off what they’re calling the first public demonstration of LTE smart grid applications.

Basically they’ll be showing off devices like meter collectors and video cameras that will be connected over an LTE network on wheels provided by Alcatel Lucent. Some of the connected smart grid gear will be linked from the show back to Tantalus’ offices remotely. The partners say that an LTE network will be able to provide utilities with a single, high quality, secure network that can prioritize the most important traffic, and will enable utilities to share the cost of gear and spectrum for the network.

This isn’t the first time that Alcatel Lucent, which sells LTE networking gear, has been singing the praises of LTE for the smart grid. Mark Madden, Vice President of Energy Markets for Americas, told me in an interview in October, that he thinks LTE is a better fit for smart grid networks than WiMAX networks, because of some technical features, like that LTE can prioritize certain traffic, and can also 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.

Other smart grid vendors are turning to LTE, too. Software startup Grid Net told me in December that its software now supports LTE. The phone companies, which are building out the LTE networks, have increasingly offered up their networks to provide machine to machine services (M2M) like connecting smart grid devices. Smart grid accounts 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.

But before LTE becomes available to utilities, they’re turning to WiMAX because of one reason: availability. Madden told me that Alcatel-Lucent is working with utilities like Oklahoma Gas & Electric and Pennsylvania Power & Light on WiMAX-based smart grid networks, though Alcatel-Lucent doesn’t actually make all of the WiMAX smart grid gear for these networks, but works as a network provider and integrator.

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Rob Adler

Prioritization of the smart grid sounds great in theory. But using LTE means sharing a pipe with all of the wireless enterprise and consumer video, voice and data transmitted by carriers. All of those uses are predicted to grow rapidly over the coming years.

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