Cisco Systems has announced a strategic investment in US-based, Grid Net, the developer of a WiMAX-based smart meter platform for utility companies. With Cisco’s backing, Grid Net now has the support of Clearwire, Motorola, Intel and General Electric. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, with offices in Sydney, Australia, Grid Net is backed by world class investors Braemar Energy Ventures, Catamount Ventures, GE Energy Financial Services and Intel Capital.
Grid Net said specifically the financing will be used to accelerate its cooperative efforts around product development, marketing, customer engagement, industry standards, and regulatory Smart Grid initiatives.
Grid Net’s products include WiMAX smart meters and smart modem reference designs, which Grid Net has licensed to GE Energy, for use in GE’s advanced meter and modem product family. Grid Net has also developed PolicyNet Smart Grid NMS software, which supports the delivery of its smart meter and modem platforms.
More than anything, the company claims as key differentiator the integration of fourth generation (4G) WiMAX communications technology into its solutions mix.
According to Grid Net, here are the advantages of all-IP WiMAX network for smart grids:
•The most robust, standards-based wireless networking security available today.
•Government-licensed spectrum that is protected from unauthorized congestion from third parties.
•Guaranteed Quality of Service (QoS) algorithms, which can be provisioned (for example) for distribution supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) and voice over Internet protocol (VoIP) applications.
•Enhanced capacity and non-line of site coverage through the use of smart antennas and Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) technology.
•Versatility: WiMAX can be also used as its own high-speed, tower-to-tower backhaul.
•Flexible deployment: Utilities can implement Smart Grid networks using WiMAX across a variety of population densities, from dense urban areas to suburban or more rural areas.
•A massive increase in network bandwidth to accommodate delivery of new energy services.
•Support from a vibrant, extensive ecosystem of WiMAX technology providers. WiMAX products are backed by the WiMAX Forum, an industry consortium of more than 500 technology leaders who are making big investments to advance WiMAX technology and standards throughout the world.
With the support of Cisco, Grid Net is certainly on its way to make WiMAX part of the smart energy ecosystem. The one question that I have is where does that leave the telecoms industry.
Yes, Clearwire is mentioned in the press release, but there is no mention of Clearwire any where else on Grid Net’s website, including the partners section and the collaboration page in the products section. In fact, there is very little indication of where Clearwire, or any other service provider would fit into the ecosystem.
On the other hand, my previous reservations on the viability of WiMAX as a smart grid standard has been dramatically reduced. Since last year, the technology has seen launches in multiple markets, while access devices such as PCs, dongles, and meters are showing up in volume on the market. For all intent and purposes, the technology is arguably leading in the smart grid and meter segment, way ahead of nascent initiatives from the GSM and CDMA camps.
On the other hand, whether or not the telecoms sector can find a place in the smart grid game is another story. Much of the issues, including reliability, quality-of-service, are still very much there.