The Strange Alliance of Power and Telecom

By Carl Ford August 22, 2011

When VoIP was first being envisioned as a primary service for cable operators, the change of the cable infrastructure was a basic requirement and lots of changes in the network management had to occur. 

As a friend reminded me, the cable operator’s idea of fault isolation was to wait an hour. Usually after an hour, the pins on the maps would have a clear point of failure. Compare that to today, where my cable operator proactively displays outage on the TV screen and makes appointment calls to the hour.

Such a difference. And what was the key? Two-way communications.

Utilities are used to accelerate responses to outages. However, the infrastructure is much more like the cable operators’. The primary difference is the awareness of the need for rapid response. Utilities are experts on two-way dispatch systems. Private radio networks and emergency response systems are part of their forte.

Utilities have private radio networks but these networks, as a rule, are not designed for mass distribution.

So what makes the use of the public wireless network important for the utilities when deploying the smart grid?

Getting the economies of scale requires the use of public networks, as our friends from AT&T have pointed out.  Low-hanging fruit for using the public wireless networks on the smart grid focuses on field services and smart meters .

Let’s start with the home customer and work our way back into the network. Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) systems have gone through a rough phase 1. Like the cable operators, the kinks of two-way information sharing have to be worked out. Most people are app crazy, but it’s the back-end systems that offer the most benefit.

The home meters need to have more than price and demand data. It needs to be about integration of lifestyle information. "Lights on, nobody home" is something we do to protect ourselves, but to make the security leap to trust the utility with this information requires more control in the hands of the user. This is a great opportunity for the carrier and the utility to work together at providing a dialogue between the user and the utility based on better systems.

As for the field services, the issue comes with the role of sensors. Not every sensor is designed to be in constant contact. Many of them are alarmed-based; but given the nature of the grid, it’s not likely that a two-way system is always available. Rather than deploying a two-way system, delegating the sensors to a wireless operator makes the most sense.

There may be a day when the utility systems are sufficiently two-way and carriers will find themselves with yet another competitor; but right now the relationship is two-way.

Want to learn more about the latest in communications and technology? Then be sure to attend ITEXPO West 2011, taking place Sept. 13-15, 2011, in Austin, Texas. ITEXPO offers an educational program to help corporate decision makers select the right IP-based voice, video, fax and unified communications solutions to improve their operations. It's also where service providers learn how to profitably roll out the services their subscribers are clamoring for – and where resellers can learn about new growth opportunities. To register, click here.

Carl Ford is a partner at Crossfire Media.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

Partner, Crossfire Media

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