ABB Wireless

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Q: Is There Really a Difference Between the Reliability of Public and Utility Private Networks?

A: YES! And it’s substantial! Southern Company and others entities studied this issue in the aftermath of Katrina and unequivocally came to the same conclusion – utilities build utility-grade networks that provide substantially higher levels of reliability than public networks.

Southern Company, an Atlanta-based IOU servicing 4.4 million customers, filed a formal recommendation with the FCC February 5th, related to the development of the National Broadband Plan and specifically about Smart Grid communication technologies. In the filing, Southern compares the performance of commercial cellular networks post Hurricane Katrina with that of its wholly owned subsidiary, Southern LINC Wireless. The primary focus of Southern LINC Wireless is to deliver reliable communications for utility operations; secondarily it offers commercial wireless service.

Bottom-line: SouthernLINC’s network was designed to meet utility-grade standards for network reliability with multi-level redundancy and back-up power built into the design…attributes not designed into typical commercial cellular communications networks. Why? Fundamentally building in this layer of protection is more costly and incompatible with public network business plans. An industry study referenced in the filing states “…such construction would be cost-prohibitive for a commercial system.”

Some highlights from the Southern filing include…within three days of Katrina making landfall, SouthernLINC had restored 98 percent of its operations. USA Today reported on October 10, 2005, that “for the first 72 hours, [SouthernLINC Wireless] radios were virtually the only way to communicate on Mississippi’s Gulf Coast.” A week post-Katrina, other commercial cellular carriers were still hampered by extensive loss of service in many areas. Even two weeks later, public cellular services were not restored in many areas.

Power is a critical resource we rely on in some way almost anywhere at home, work and play. Shouldn’t the Smart Grid be built with high reliability as a key requirement? Utilities need to develop their strategy for a Smart Grid communication infrastructure that meets the requirements for all current and planned applications that will run over the network – this brings to mind attributes such as performance, latency, security, control, scalability….and yes, reliability.


Monday, February 8, 2010

Smart Grids -- Its Not Just About Meters

There was an interesting exclusive interview that appeared today in SmartGrid Today with Itron’s CEO, Malcolm Unsworth. He talked about the overall positive trend in Itron’s business as well as pointed out the fact that the adoption of smart meters is changing the metering vendor playing field. Smart Grid deployments seem to be accelerating meter demand, and with only 8% of the world’s meters capable of bidirectional communications today, there’s huge opportunity for Itron and the other metering vendors. However, to make Smart Grids requires more than just installing smart meters and as such its forcing the metering vendors to innovate and develop new product strategies…or risk their future.

While meters had been a commodity, with the advent of smart grids, meters aren’t just simple devices autonomous devices anymore. Smart meters are an integral part of the smart grid ecosystem and bidirectional communications is a key requirement. Meters need to tie to metering LANS upstream to connect to distribution area networks which are backhauled to the utility’s core network. Smart meters must connect downstream to home area networks that will eventually communicate with networks in homes and appliances. Clearly networks and network communications are a new strategic challenge metering vendors are facing…and to to quote Mr. Unsworth, “…the best ones will win.”

Tropos also recognized the strategic role of communications for smart grids, launching its GridCom architecture about a year ago. Currently Tropos has approximately twenty utility customers using its IP broadband mesh networking solutions and is well poised to continue providing utilities with a reliable smart grid communications foundation. Tropos has established relationships with a wide range of industry-leading smart grid ecosystem vendors, including Itron, Echelon, and Elster. Check out our website to learn more about the Tropos GridCom architecture for Smart Grids.


Friday, February 5, 2010

Licensed Spectrum Could Limit Utilities' Flexibility in Deploying Smart Grids

This past week, several articles have been written about Cisco’s recommendations to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as it relates the National Broadband Plan; you can check out one such article in earth2tech. From our perspective, we wholeheartedly agree with Cisco’s recommendations to the FCC. Tropos has also been active in submission of comments to the FCC in meetings and formal response to Public Notices related to the value of broadband for building Smart Grids and Smart Cities.

One of the controversial topics I’d like to highlight is the issue as to whether the FCC should allocate wireless spectrum specifically for utilities to use for Smart Grid – a new licensed spectrum. We agree with Cisco’s position on this issue – while it could be valuable, it’s just not needed. There is sufficient bandwidth and quality of service available with today’s unlicensed band which includes 2.4 and 5.8 GHz for regional scale distribution area networks. Unlicensed 900 MHz is already widely used for neighborhood area networks to support metering LANs and has proven to be quite effective. From a cost perspective, use of unlicensed spectrum for the Smart Grid translates to less cost for utilities as they don’t need purchase an expensive use license. Different unlicensed options play a valuable role within the Smart Grid context and we believe utilities should be allowed the freedom to select the best solutions – including licensed and unlicensed spectrum, that best meet their specific requirements. Therefore, Tropos continues to recommend to the FCC that if licensed spectrum is allocated for utilities, it should be an option but not a mandate.

Based upon our vast experience in deployment of distribution area networks, the concerns raised by some parties as it relates to interference in unlicensed spectrum, is unfounded. Reference Tropos’comments submitted to the FCC which highlights one of our Silicon Valley customers that has successfully mitigated interference issues in a very challenging interference environment.

In addition, among Tropos’ customers are many utilities that are successfully using unlicensed spectrum for multiple applications across urban, suburban, and even less populated regions. Such utility-specific applications include backhaul for smart meter LANS, distribution automation, substation security, power quality monitoring, and mobile workforce applications (scheduling, GIS, etc.). The Tropos wireless broadband network provides the needed reliability, performance, security, and quality of service dictated by utilities.

We look forward to the recommendations Nick Sinai, the FCC’s Energy and Environment Director, will be presenting to the FCC for how to bring broadband to the Smart Grid as part of the National Broadband Plan in March – it undoubtedly could have significant impact on the flexibility and options U.S. utilities will have as they deploy Smart Grid communications.