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Mobile

Sprint Pushes WiMax on the Smart Grid

Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S) is hoping WiMax will find a niche in the smart grid, and it's made some progress on that goal today. The wireless operator inked a deal with smart grid software provider Grid Net Inc. to build smart meters and routers that tap the WiMax network. (See Grid Net Uses Sprint for Smart Grid.)

Sprint and Grid Net are two of WiMax's biggest proponents, and forming a partnership could prove beneficial to both.

Grid Net, which already has customers using WiMax in the Australian market, hopes that certifying its products on Sprint's WiMax network will help it penetrate the US market, while Sprint is seeking more ways to maintain relevancy before Long Term Evolution (LTE) is deployed.

Sprint boasts more than 100 utilities using its iDEN or CDMA networks for smart devices, and Robert Gustin, its industry solutions manager for utilities, says some of these customers have advanced meter infrastructure (AMI) in place that they are looking to upgrade to WiMax, while others are looking at new deployments based on the so-called 4G infrastructure.

"As utilities look for different ways to upgrade their infrastructure, by having a 4G option available now, it builds a longer life cycle into network plans," adds Brian Huey, head of business development and strategy for the smart grid, utility, oil, and gas industries at Sprint. "It gives them an option for future migration." WiMax standards allow utilities to assign different classes of services and set priorities in critical infrastructure apps, so that latency -- a key utility concern -- isn't an issue. Utilities would also get the bonus of speeds that may be overkill today but could be necessary for future, more complex smart-grid services.

WiMax also has the unique advantage of being available today for a market that lacks a dominant protocol, says Heavy Reading senior analyst Jim Hodges. "The window for WiMax is short, but it's here now," he says.

Utility's network of choice is ultimately a business decision, and if they are looking to move quickly, WiMax is a viable option, he says.

Sprint isn't pretending that WiMax will be ubiquitous in the smart grid. Gustin says many utility customers are looking at dual 3G/4G arrangements depending on the application and the geography. These same customers may eventually explore LTE as well, he admits.

"We are not prepared to suggest WiMax will become the network of choice," Gustin says. "What will be really critical is the next couple of years. Utilities will determine the requirements to meet their application needs."

— Sarah Reedy, Senior Reporter, Light Reading Mobile

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