December 2010

Smart Grids and Wireless Evolution

M2M, Smart Grids and Wireless Technological Evolution

By: Axel Hansmann, CINTERION Wireless Modules

On average, 37 billion machines are at work each day worldwide – largely unconnected, both to each other and to the people who manage them. Machine-to-machine technology, M2M for short, is used by businesses across many varied industries to connect these machines, automate remote data communications, improve business processes and productivity, and ultimately, to improve the bottom line. Wireless networks are virtually everywhere and the ubiquity of cellular communications has fueled extraordinary technical innovation in M2M technology. CINTERION is the global leader in wireless M2M communication modules and has been one of the driving forces for M2M industry innovation since the Company’s inception.

Increased network capabilities over the last 15 years (such as EDGE, HSDPA and LTE) have fueled exciting technology advancements in varied industries from fleet management to automotive applications to medical devices. But some of the most exciting innovation and growth is happening in utility and smart grid applications. About a year ago the Obama administration in the US announced $3.4 billion in grants for smart grid efforts. Legislation in the Sweden, the Nordics, Asia and other world regions has also motivated the implementation of smart grid technology worldwide. Smart grids allow energy consumers and suppliers to quickly respond to each other’s needs to help conserve resources. It operates by using two-way digital and wireless technology to remotely control anything that consumes electricity – in homes, businesses, and industry. Smart grid technology saves energy, reduces costs and increases reliability and transparency – it’s “behind the scenes” technology that makes a tremendous impact. And what role does M2M play in this? M2M enabled smart meters are THE key component for two-way communication, which are an essential component of a smart grid.

Smart grid technology drives sustainable energy generation and consumption in a number of ways: most notably, it helps alternative sources of energy such as solar and wind integrate into the grid, which help decrease CO2 emissions caused by traditional energy sources. Smart meters, a crucial enabling component in smart gird technology, allow energy consumption to be remotely adjusted and controlled. This benefits the environment and consumers who are able to take advantage of off-peak rates for non-urgent appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, etc. This type of load shifting helps to minimize service disruptions – so called brown or blackouts – during peak hours of use and allows a more economical distribution of resources. In addition, smart grids and meters enable remote maintenance, monitoring and repair of equipment in the field. Built-in intelligence enables problem solving in real time so changes can be made before significant fixes are necessary. This can help lengthen the life of machinery and equipment and cut significant costs for utilities. For example, during the 2003 four day blackout in the US and Canada, the estimated cost to utility companies was 10 billion dollars, which might have been alleviated with load shifting via smart grid technology.

Global wireless networks will continue to evolve bringing advanced communication and computing capabilities necessary for smart grid applications. However, evolution offers challenges for adopters who need solutions that will last for the long haul. Unlike cell phones, which are typically upgraded every year or two; smart grid solutions depend on widely distributed geographic implementations with a tremendous number of endpoints (meters). It would be enormously time consuming and cost prohibitive to update the communications modules in thousands, perhaps millions of smart meters each time the network evolves. And with network evolution happening at faster rates, a unique challenge emerges – what happens to an implementation when the network is turned off?

A recent study commissioned by the GSMA on the total cost of ownership (TCO) of embedded mobile devices highlighted the benefits of upfront investment into 3G modules. The cost of the module typically represents only 1-14% of the TCO. Based on a forced migration from 2G to 3G as legacy networks are decommissioned and considering the lower cost for data-traffic, the report concludes that the higher upfront costs of 3G modules are offset when all costs are considered.

CINTERION, part of the Gemalto family of companies, the €1.65 billion multinational digital security leader, is well known for its intelligent product roadmap designed to securely operate across different wireless generations. Its new EU3 UMTS900 module was specifically designed to meet the requirements of global smart grid applications, offering the perfect solution for the challenging long-term requirements of industrial applications such as automatic meter reading (AMR). The sophisticated module has Dual-Band frequencies for optimal performance on both 2G and 3G networks and it has newly added UMTS900 functionality. This means EU3 can support applications designed for use on GSM networks evolving from 2G to 3G for many years to come – both in areas with next generation wireless service and in remote areas where 3G coverage is not yet available, providing an optimized TCO. With its embedded TCP/IP stack including ‘Transparent TCP Service’, the EU3 provides an easy way to handle machine-to-machine data communication via UMTS, EDGE, GPRS or GSM. Or, more simply put, it’s future proof.

Utilities, meter makers and enterprises across many varied industries are wise to invest in smart M2M technology that enables wireless connectivity today and in the future. Sustainable and forward thinking M2M technology offers a full range of wireless communications functions and features and protects technology investment while allowing room for growth to the cellular networks of the future.

About the Author

As vice president of strategy and marketing for CINTERION Wireless Modules, Axel Hansmann brings more than 15 years of telecommunications and technology management experience to the executive team. In this role, he’s responsible for developing strategies to drive business growth in new and existing markets, enhancing the customer experience worldwide and building brand awareness as the market leader in M2M technology. Before joining CINTERION, Mr. Hansmann was with boardeleven Management Consultants where he focused on evaluating market entry and strategic growth options in the M2M industry for a leading module manufacturer and mobile network operators. Prior to that, he worked for eight years at Telefónica O2, a leading telecommunications carrier in Europe where he took on various responsibilities covering network technology, product management and business strategy.