(Editor’s Note: The Thought Leadership Series is an ongoing forum where we interview industry players and thought leader in the Smart Grid space. For this segment, Jon Arnold (News - Alert) interviews Kevin F. R. Suitor, vice president of corporate marketing at Redline Communications, a Markham, Ontario-based provider of broadband wireless access and backhaul products. Suitor will be speaking during the Smart Grid Summit – an event collocated with ITEXPO (News - Alert) West 2009, to be held Sept. 1 to 3 in Los Angeles – on how utilities are deploying the technology.)
Jon Arnold: Let’s start by introducing Redline Communications (News - Alert) to the Smart Grid community. Tell us a bit about the company in general, along with your particular focus on this emerging market.
Kevin F. R. Suitor: Redline is a world leader in developing WiMAX (News - Alert) and other broadband wireless technologies for a number of market sectors. Our products have been deployed by carriers, energy companies, transportation companies and public safety groups including several military organizations, in more than 130 countries. Redline has been building a roster of customers in the energy sector due to the demand for a reliable, manageable, and cost-effective wireless solution to transmit data within utility networks – both between facilities and from customers locations to facilities.
JA: The appeal of remote meter reading and monitoring is easy to understand, but explain a bit more about why this is important to utilities, and the role Redline plays to enable AMI.
KS: AMI obviously offers a number of cost and operational advantages. However, the greatest long-term benefits will be environmental. The ability to produce only the amount of energy that is needed when it is needed will significantly reduce the toll on the environment. For example, coal fired generation only needs to be brought on-line when clean generation facilities are fully utilized reducing greenhouse gas emissions substantially.
Redline’s products provide a reliable communications network to transmit information, whether it be data, voice, or video, making AMI possible. The range and capacity of our products also means that less infrastructure is required to connect more households over a given footprint delivering the lowest cost per household passed for any technology option. So while enabling an application that will help our environment, our products deliver the most capital efficient deployment option for energy companies.
JA: Are there particular customer sets for your utility customers where WiMAX is especially valuable, and what are the main benefits?
KS: Redline has worked specifically with electric utility companies to deploy WiMAX networks.
The electricity grid has become increasingly complex, and difficult to manage and protect. However, the improved performance and cost effectiveness of new information and telecommunications technologies make it possible for utilities to deploy smart grids. These smart grids vastly enhance the utilities’ ability to control and manage the provision of electricity, from transmission to distribution, as well as the utilities’ internal operations. Smart grid applications are central to the utilities efforts to make resource use more efficient, reduce energy consumption, increase reliability and security, and bring down their operating costs. WiMAX technologies are uniquely suited to support the transmission of data within these networks.
JA: In terms of the Smart Grid vision, how far ahead are your utility customers thinking? Are they using WiMAX just for infrastructure efficiencies, or are they thinking about enabling the home with smarter forms of communication, and potentially new services?
KS: Most of our customers are thinking from five to 30 years ahead. They are evaluating a number of technologies so they can choose a solution that is going to have the flexibility to support their communications requirements over the long term. As many companies are in the early stages of planning their Smart Grid and Smart Metering networks, the immediate plan is to use WiMAX for infrastructure efficiencies, but indeed many have an eye to the future and are making technology choices based on which solutions give them the option of seizing more revenue opportunities down the line by offering communications services.
For example, some energy wholesalers by partnering with electric distribution companies building out AMI and Smart Grid broadband networks have leveraged their ‘feet on the street’ to sell broadband services along with energy thereby creating a “Green Broadband’ option. Some are examining this model even today –Toronto Hydro, which deployed a city-wide wireless network a few years ago is one example. When incorporated as a wide area network WiMAX technologies can greatly improve the quality of service over the network and subscriber capacity, resulting in a much better ROI for energy companies than delivered by other technologies.
JA: Wireless spectrum is managed differently in Canada than in the U.S., and Canadian utilities are better positioned to take advantage of WiMAX right now. Can you explain that further, and perhaps share with us where Canadian utilities are leading the market with Smart Grid.
KS: Canada is a leader in mandating strict targets, on tight deadlines, for smart grid deployments to achieve a more efficient use of energy and to reduce the reliance on external and nonrenewable sources of energy.
To enable smart grid applications, Industry Canada, the Canadian regulator, is allocating 30 MHz of spectrum to electricity utilities in the 1.8 GHz band to support the operations, maintenance, and management of the electricity supply.
Ahead of availability of the 1.8 GHz spectrum, Redline and HydroOne, one of the largest utilities in Canada, completed a successful proof-of-concept trial in the 3.5 GHz band across more than 6,000 square miles (16,000 sq km) in rural areas near Barrie, Ontario. The trial included smart metering applications, and it validated the end-to-end network support for the other core applications, which have more stringent bandwidth and latency requirements.
Redline adapted our RedMAX 4C WiMAX products specifically for these types of applications. We believe that these WiMAX products are best-suited for the needs of utility companies throughout the globe. Base stations and SUs can be customized to operate in any licensed or license-exempt band below 6 GHz, with any channelization between 1.25 and 10 MHz, allowing utilities to benefit from RedMAX in any market in which they operate and leveraging any available spectrum.
JA: Being a nascent market, Smart Grid is harder to do than it looks, and we have a long way to go in developing standards. What have been some of the technical challenges for getting WiMAX to work with your customer’s Smart Grid initiatives, and what issues remain a work in progress?
KS: One of the key challenges is that some utility applications required critical protection and control of the electric network circuitry. Therefore, these networks require extremely low latency in the system – as low as 15 to 20 ms – as well as the ability to set quality of service policies that define how data from different applications is transported, based on the applications’ specific requirements and the priorities established by utility.
They also have stringent requirements for high throughput, as GIS-based applications require the transmission of large files. Another requirement is advanced traffic management capabilities, advanced security features to protect the utilities’ communications, and, by extension, the safety of their staff and customers, IP-based connectivity to facilitate integration of applications with the core IT functions within the utility, and in many cases, handoffs to support mobility access, mostly for in-vehicle and mobile workforce applications.
Given the flexibility of the WiMAX technology and the sophistication of Redline’s engineering team, we were able to deliver a solution that met these needs.
JA: What about the Green aspect of Smart Grid? What role does WiMAX play in helping utilities be more environmentally responsive?
KS: As mentioned earlier, the range and capacity of our products also means that less infrastructure has to be built to connect more households over the network. So while enabling an application that will help our environment, our products also have less of an environmental impact compared to other communications technologies.
Redline has also been extremely diligent in meeting the stringent requirements of governments and environmental standards bodies around the world, such as RHOS, ensuring our product components and manufacturing processes are of the highest environmental standards. For example, we only use ROHS-compliant powder coat finishes, which use process that prevent VOC’s – that’s “volatile organic compounds” – from being released into the atmosphere, and our metal enclosures and support brackets are made from aluminum and steel so they can be easily recycled.
Energy efficiency is also a priority in the development of Redline’s products. Each of our wireless backhaul products are 802.3af compliant, drawing less than 12W per system. Our latest WiMAX products use less power per active radio than a 100W light bulb, yet cover up to a 12-mile cell radius, depending on topography and capacity limits.
JA: The Smart Grid Summit is just a few weeks away, and you’ll be speaking on the session about how utilities are deploying Smart Grid. What are some of the messages our audience can expect to hear from you?
KS: Redline will share details of the network planning behind the deployment of its WiMAX products for Smart Grid applications, and will discuss how we addressed the challenges inherent to utility networks. We will also discuss the future of WiMAX technologies and how their evolution has and will continue to offer benefits that meet the specific needs of Smart Grid and Smart Metering networks.
Learn more about Smart Grids at the Smart Grid Summit — collocated with ITEXPO, the biggest and most comprehensive IP communications event of the year. ITEXPO West will take place in Los Angeles, Sept. 1 to 3, 2009, featuring three valuable days of exhibits, conferences, and networking opportunities you can’t afford to miss. Don’t wait. Register now.
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Jon Arnold is co-founder of Intelligent Communications Partners (ICP), a strategic advisory consultancy focused on the emerging Smart Grid opportunity. To read more of his Smart Grid articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Michael Dinan