WiMAX in smart meter sets the stage for "open standards" based smart grids

San Francisco start up software company Grid Net, is using WiMAX technology in its wireless smart meter instrument. The meter, being built by GE, uses Intel’s WiMAX chip and Grid Net software. It is said to be one of the first truly "open-standards" based approaches to building a meter.

Grid Net’s meter went on sale to select utility customers this March, and though Bell declined to state the current price, said that within a year and a half he expects the price to drop low enough to undercut any of the meters on the market that use proprietary technology. Bell says he has four major deals in the works and contends that his smart meter will eventually be cheaper than proprietary systems on the market (this is a key benefit of "open-standards").

Because WiMAX operates over licensed wireless spectrum, Grid Net founder Ray Bell claims it’s far more reliable and secure than unlicensed wireless networks (e.g. WiFi) — a particularly important feature for smart grid deployments. The meters could use national WiMAX networks (e.g. Clearwire or from regional carriers) or WiMAX networks that would be built and owned by a utility.


GigaOm states, "but if the smart grid really will follow the lessons of the Internet, open standards will be a key driver."


The use of WiMAX for grids is not a new concept.  In January 2005, we wrote that:



The basic premise was that fixed WiMAX could be effectively used to extend a carrier’s long haul network for access to a grid computer network.  We are now seeing WiMAX used in emerging smart power grid networks, but the concept is the same.  We think WiMAX has a lot of potential and promise for interconnecting PCs and meters, and other instruments over smart power grids.

0 thoughts on “WiMAX in smart meter sets the stage for "open standards" based smart grids

  1. 2 relevent articles on this topic:

    1. Smart Grid Debate: Licensed vs. Unlicensed Wireless Spectrum

    Increasingly, utilities and companies are deciding whether smart grid wireless networks need to run over licensed wireless spectrum, in which the airwaves are owned and regulated or unlicensed, which is shared spectrum and can be used by anyone as long as they abide by certain rules. With utilities spending billions on smart grid networks, the choice could determine which tech companies that plan to sell smart grid gear to the utilities are successful and which are not.

    The degree of reliability and security that a smart grid demands can only be achieved with licensed spectrum, its backers argue. The idea is that because licensed spectrum is owned by one entity and can be used for a single purpose its users won’t face interference. But the problem is that licenses to buy spectrum cost money adding substantial fees to smart grid rollouts. On the other hand because unlicensed spectrum is shared and doesn’t require an expensive license to access it, its backers believe it’s the only option cheap enough to offer utilities a cost-effective method to roll out meter projects. But critics say that because unlicensed spectrum is shared by many users, services deployed on those networks can face interference.

    We recently learned of the debate from Stewart Kantor, the CEO and founder of Full Spectrum, a two-year-old startup that builds WiMAX-based wireless networking gear that runs over licensed spectrum. His company sells WiMAX-based radios (which add intelligence to the power grid where power is distributed from generation to substation) that run over licensed, ultra-high frequency and very high frequency spectrum. He told us unlicensed wireless services are “problematic” for mission-critical services, which need to be secure, reliable and robust.

    2. WiMAX and the grid

    Smart grid technology is a business play, not a consumer play. The ability of spies to get into the existing grid is due to the fact current “smart grid” plans maintain a connection to the current Internet. This is a critical weakness that policymakers can fix.

    The solution is very simple. Designate a narrow band of frequency to wireless electrical infrastructure. Close that network off from the Internet. Require radios using that frequency to be certified, and limit their functions. Have control functions centrally licensed.

    Taking WiMAX, as it is, into the smart grid business is overkill. The data load on a smart grid network should not be enormous. A sectorized, cellular-like solution should not require wide bandwidth to work. All you’re delivering is simple data on loads and availability of power.

    A small slice of existing ISM bands should be sufficient to do the job, regardless of the underlying technology. Regardless of how smart grid data is encoded, it’s more important that the technology it uses be ubiquitous and isolated than wideband.


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