Monday, August 17, 2009

WiMax finds a plausible Plan B

Here’s story about a potential application of WiMax† outside consumer mobile wireless by San Diego Gas & Electric, as reported by earth2tech:

SDG&E’s Director of Network & Communications Services, Jeff Nichols told us today that SDG&E has filed an application for $30 million in smart grid stimulus funds from the DOE for a $60 million smart grid wireless project called GridComm that will span the entire 4,100 square miles of its footprint. Nichols says GridComm will use different types of layered wireless technologies… For about 30 percent of the network where higher bandwidth is required, the utility could use WiMAX. …

Nichols says GridComm needs an option like WiMAX — a nascent, high-speed wireless technology that delivers a lot of bandwidth and has morphed into an alternative wireless option for cell phone companies’ next-generation networks — for areas of the network that will be collecting a lot of data. For example, around major grid assets, like substations, utilities collect data from phasor units, which monitor the reliability of the grid and collect information like voltage, current, and frequency in real time. Other examples he said could be using the network to deliver mapping information to mobile workers, or provide video services for facility monitoring.

Nichols said SDG&E hadn’t yet chosen a vendor for any WiMAX gear and the project is still a proposal, not a done deal. While we’ve heard of a couple WiMAX smart meter pilots, SDG&E is one of the first large utilities that I’ve heard of embracing WiMAX for the smart grid. It was just a matter of time before one did, as the ecosystem around WiMAX for the smart grid has grown considerably larger over the past year, and now includes smart meter software maker Grid Net, smart meter maker GE, Intel’s WiMAX chips and vendors like Alvarian eying the emerging smart grid market.
I think this is a wonderful opportunity for WiMax. The global race against LTE for mobile 4G wireless solutions is over, even in the US. Still, the technology works, it’s standardized and has credible suppliers. In businesses not subject to direct network effects of a 2-sided market — i.e. internal business networks rather than handsets and base stations — it has time to market advantages and probably some hungry vendors.

Hat tip: Greentech Media

† Like most financial journalists, as a matter of style I refuse to write WiMAX, QUALCOMM, INTEL, FORTRAN etc. etc.

1 comment:

Mike Demler said...

Regardless of your preferred 4G technology, I think that the opportunity for machine-to-machine (M2M) applications will be great. At the recent IEEE Mobile WiMAX Symposium, Stanford professor and Beceem founder Dr. Arogyaswami Paulraj listed some other "non-voice" applications: set-top boxes, sensor networks for public safety, and digital signage, to name a few.

Besides M2M applications, Mobile WiMAX does possess a time-to-market lead in base stations as well as handsets. Examples are Samsung's Mondi (Clearwire) and the HTC MAX™ 4G (Yota). Chipsets for handheld LTE devices will not be available in volume until mid-2010, though several reports erroneously referred to Verizon's recent LTE test as involving handsets. Verizon's news release only describes "trial devices" from LG and Samsung.