Sprint utilities adviser states that 2010 will be the year that WiMax becomes integrated into smart grids for public municipalities. Sprint said that there have been discussions with current utility customers about using WiMax networks. Sprint has also met with with other smart grid companies including General Electric and Grid-Net, a maker of smart grid software based on WiMax. GE makes a WiMax-based smart meter as well.
A few utilities companies have already begun integrating the technology into building their smart grids. San Diego Gas & Electric applied for stimulus funds to build a smart grid wireless network that would include about 30 percent of its network built with WiMax. Southern California Edison is looking to use WiMax for part of its smart grid network.
Sprint has a joint venture with carrier Clearwire that is focused on WiMax, high-speed wireless technology that has morphed into an alternative wireless option for cell phone companies’ 4G networks. Get ready for some big moves and partnerships this year from Sprint and other players when it comes to a WiMax smart grid. There are already rumblings of a partnership between Sprint and retail giant Wal-Mart to help roll out a national WiMax network.
WiMax is an open standard, with large players like Intel, Motorola and GE building gear. The cost of WiMax smart grid equipment could decrease substantially in the future as well. WiMax chip sets currently cost around $36, but in roughly a year, they should be closer to $12. In another 6 months, prices could drop to $8 or even $6.
A smart-grid using WiMax technology will most likely occur outside the U.S. first. In late October, Grid Net announced that it would be supplying its software product for Australian utility customer SP AusNet. SP AusNet’s network will use Motorola hardware, Unwired Australia’s wireless spectrum, and will cost some hundreds of millions of dollars to build.
U.S. utilities are watching WiMax development closely. Texas-based CenterPoint was one of the first utilities to test out GE’s WiMax-based smart meters and National Grid will be testing out WiMax gear provided by Alvarion. These devices would automatically read the meters and send information back to a central location, making it easier to read the meter and gather information. A lot of the interest in a WiMax smart grid in 2010 is being supplied by the $4 billion in stimulus funds, announced by the DOE back in October. On January 15, information was released regarding applying for more stimulus funding. As these funds reach the utilities that have WiMax plans, expect WiMax-based smart grids to begin appearing towards the end of the year.