Utilities Private Networks & Commercial Wireless Networks - Great Partnership Opportunity Being Missed

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“It is ridiculous for utilities to spend the money to build their own wireless networks for smart grid applications when commercial wireless service providers with secure coverage over 95% of nation can provide them better service for less cost.”
            - Common Refrain in Washington, DC
Where does one begin? This is so wrong on so many levels. But, that said, it is a well-crafted argument that is being espoused by all the commercial wireless networks with our regulators and legislators here in Washington and with your senior management whenever they get a chance. If you have not heard it before, you will. So, let’s look at the presumptions.
First, virtually every utility that is deploying wireless “smarts” throughout their network is not “building a wireless network from scratch.” We find we repeatedly need to remind policymakers that utilities built secure wireless networks in this country long before a commercial wireless service was ever consider a dream in some entrepreneur’s mind. We are not rebuilding these networks. We are adding functionality and reach to networks we have operated for years.
Commercial wireless carriers love their maps and are having great fun with them in TV commercials. They love to say that they reach over 95% of all Americans. Well, for most utilities that does not mean they reach 95% of where we have wires and pipes. We are lucky if we have 50% of our service area covered by 2G or 3G wireless service.
Finally, to claim that commercial wireless carriers can offer secure smart grid services for less cost that utilities can provide it themselves is ludicrous. There is nothing inherently more secure about commercial carriers. And, some of the prices they have proposed charging utilities for simple services like meter reading are sky-high compared for what they are offering. They act like they are offering a nifty new cell phone, not basic paging data service.
So what’s going on here? I think there is a tremendous market opportunity for commercial wireless carriers and they can truly contribute significantly to building out smart metering and smart grid applications around homes and neighborhoods. But, the appearance is that they are being uncharacteristically shortsighted – and, by doing so, killing a truly golden opportunity to secure a profitable relationship with utilities for decades to come. I, for one, hope they come to their senses soon. We could really use their help – not their misguided suggestions that utilities have no business operating wireless networks.



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