The Global View

A better way to go smart (grid): Wireless communications

Energy GridFollowing is a guest commentary penned by Jonas N. Olsen, vice president of marketing and sales for On-Ramp Wireless Inc., which provides the first purpose-built wireless system for efficiently connecting billions of hard-to-reach devices in metro scale and other challenging environments.

A variety of wireless systems and topologies are being deployed for smart grid applications. Most notably are the Automated Metering Infrastructure (AMI) projects that, generally, deploy meshing to reach smart meters in neighborhoods. Meshing is a network topology where data “hops” from node (meter) to node until it reaches a gateway or repeater. From the gateway, data is typically backhauled to the utility via a cellular network, allowing the collection of billing data and — hopefully in the future — energy usage and pricing data.

These solutions are only able to connect to electric meters and lack the throughput (network capacity) to enable the vision of a real-time intelligent utility network across various applications such as in-home energy management, grid automation, and gas and water meters, which will limit their ability to deliver on the promise of the smart grid. Because of the relatively short reach of these wireless technologies, a lot of infrastructure points need to be deployed (gateways/repeaters). This has significant cost implications, both in upfront capital expenditure and in ongoing maintenance: cost that is already being passed on to consumers with questionable immediate benefit.

We believe that there is a better method for providing wireless coverage for the smart grid. By using a star topology, as opposed to meshing, a much simpler and lower power solution can be deployed. This requires a system with much longer range and higher capacity, but will ultimately provide a more reliable and lower cost solution for the utilities and therefore for the consumers.

For more information, please see our comments to the FCC on a public notice regarding Smart Grid communication here.

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