Depending on whom you ask, SmartGrid for telco broadband carriers is either the next great golden broadband opportunity or a relative distraction in the overall broadband scheme. Like most things, reality fits somewhere in the middle of these extremes. For those who haven’t been following this important trend, SmartGrid in simplistic terms, converges broadband and IP networking with the nation’s electrical grid and creates some interesting opportunities as a result.

I attended the recent Utilities Telecommunications Council Telecom 10 conference this week and as you can imagine, SmartGrid was high on the agenda. I was struck by the pace of innovation that is now occurring in the utilities industry, thanks in large part to SmartGrid. UTC Telecom 10 felt very much like a traditional telecom industry show with the discussions of 4G wireless, home area networking, and broadband implications all on the agenda.

One question which permeates throughout both the utilities and telecom industries is how the two should coexist relative to SmartGrid? Should electric utilities turn to existing broadband carriers for network capacity and expertise when building their own SmartGrid capability? The logical answer would be yes, in my opinion. But we all know that logic is sometimes over rated.

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In this case, you have to go beyond logic and look at the details. Electric utilities have some very specific requirements along the lines of access, security, reliability, survivability, and responsiveness that will have to be addressed by whatever broadband network solution they choose to deploy. Answers to those questions (and many others) will determine whether they partner or go it alone relative to SmartGrid networks.

Telecom broadband carriers will need to be in a position to listen to and address these needs and concerns in a flexible manner, before discussions can even begin. Both participants will have to have open minds and may need to check egos and preconceived notions of each other at the door before those discussions can begin as well.

For telecom broadband carriers, taking notice of SmartGrid does have increasing importance. Here is what we do know — SmartGrid will happen and will inject significant broadband and IP networking capabilities into the electric utility industry, with or without the participation of existing telecom broadband carriers.

I would suggest the right plan of action should be ‘with.’ Determining how ‘with’ can happen and what realistic business opportunity it brings is the order of the day. Stay tuned to Telecompetitor on this important issue. We plan on covering it in much more detail in the coming months.

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5 thoughts on “SmartGrid: New Broadband Window of Opportunity?

  1. agree with the second to last paragraph. and electrics will offer competing services – hey will have to. they are going to build this broadband network and their investors/owners are going to be looking for a return on that investment. meter readings won't be enough.

  2. What I feel is needed is a partnership addressing various aspects of this whole Smart Grid universe.
    The Local Service Provider/Telco need to focus both in the home, providing tools (hardware & software) the home owner can use to monitor (Usage), manage the whole house and control specific appliances and to provide the Utilities with a robust Broadband Wired and or Wireless communications network connection to allow them to monitor and control their meters. The Telco is already in the Home Area Network and provides Broadband links to most customers and there is no need to duplicate this.

    Jim A.

  3. If the FCC allowed utilities to use 1.9 GHz (as in Canada) the utilities would go it alone.
    Spectrum allocation will be key.

    1. To Wilma's point – the meter reading part of smartgrid is very much a wireless play. Telcos who aren't already up to speed with mesh networking should get there, if they intend to pursue smartgrid

  4. The answer to the question posed on this article, is it probably depends.
    In the real world the topology of the utility and the broadband coverage in the area will vary. Different utilities will take different routes or use a combination of the existing providers' network in some areas and build their own in others.
    Security, reliability, survivability, and responsiveness specified in the article are probably the most important aspects of the network that they'll need to build. But they will also need the ability to ensure different services and different reliability levels. Thus, AMI info will potentially get a different QoS than distribution automation – which controls the utility backbone.
    Another aspect which is sometimes left out of the equation is the fact that the utility's existing data network is mostly based on SONET and while this may have worked for them for many years, finding personal to maintain it becoming harder and harder.

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