ABB Wireless

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.