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US Smart Grid Networks Exploiting Infrastructure to Provide Wireless Broadband

Henry Lancaster

The USDA Rural Development's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) has now spent the $250 million committed for smart grid technologies. To this has been added an additional $201 million in funding approved by the Agriculture Secretary to electricity utilities in eight states to install smart grid technologies and improve their generation and transmission facilities. The beneficiaries are spread among a large number of states.

This investment is helping smart grids to become the norm across the country. A side benefit is that utilities are also developing their smart grids for telecoms over and above that used by meters to send data to network controllers.

As an example, earlier this year the utility serving Santa Clara began using its smart grid technology and infrastructure to deliver free citywide outdoor WiFi. While meters send data via an existing wireless network, a separate channel is used to provide outdoor internet access. The WiFi network is growing in scope and reach as more premises are equipped with smart meters.

The potential for expanding WiFi coverage is huge. There are about 120 municipalities with citywide WiFi networks accessible to the general public. In addition, there are about 60 cities with citywide or near citywide coverage though these networks are now limited to government applications, such as public safety. There are also about 80 or more cities with large outdoor WiFi areas, mostly located in parks and downtown zones.

A hindrance to cities aiming to develop comprehensive WiFi networks has come from the powerful telecoms industry, which employs its lobbying clout to push for laws blocking or preventing municipalities from offering WiFi or fixed broadband services.

The use of smart meters to provide WiFi using existing (and expanding) infrastructure presents a separate challenge, since the telcos would have to battle utilities rather than municipal governments.

By Henry Lancaster, Senior Analysts at Paul Budde Communication Henry is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located hereVisit Page
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Share your comments

Smart Grid and city-wide WiFi? Frank Bulk  –  May 01, 2013 8:04 PM PDT

The data volume requirements of a viable city-wide Wi-Fi network are significantly higher than a smart grid network.  Unless the wireless network was designed and built with consumer access specifically mind, I don't think we'll see smart grid networks drive the growth of city-wide Wi-Fi networks.

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