Wi-Fi for Smart Grid, One Year after my Previous Report

I had a chance to talk with Greg Ennis at the recent ConnectivityWeek about Wi-Fi’s progress. I talked to him about a year ago about Wi-Fi’s role in smart grid and posted this blog.

I have not followed Wi-Fi closely of late, and the last topic I was aware of was 802.11n, which boosts bandwidth and distance of reach. Actually, there are a few things worth mentioning here beyond 802.11n.

As I reported about Lew Tucker’s keynote speech (link), with the emergence of cloud computing, mobile computing, and smart grid, much more data will be generated and form Big Data. Lew presented statistics of the data expansion. Greg also showed me the Wi-Fi IC chip shipment data, as follows. Note that all the graphs and figures are shown courtesy of the Wi-Fi Alliance.

As this graph shows, we have about 1B shipments this year and will have about 2B shipments in 2015. Also, note that each segment grows nicely, but both the handsets and consumer electronics (CE) fields grow rapidly and almost overtake the networking and PC shipments in 2015. Handsets fall into the mobile segment and CE falls into smart grid at home (smart home). This is another proof of what is fueling Big Data for the future.

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At this stage, smart meter areas are dominated by ZigBee because of its small footprint, i.e., small resource (CPU and memory) requirements. However, with the transition to smart energy profile 2.0 from 1.0 in the ZigBee and progress in computing technology, Wi-Fi may come back to compete head-to-head with ZigBee. When the 2.0 specification is realized, regardless of whether ZigBee or WiFI is in a meter, a smart meter could easily communicate with any smart device or appliance that speaks IP natively at home. Wi-Fi is smart enough to work with ZigBee and HomePlug, and as an average consumer, I do not have to worry which technology enables me to exploit mobile computing and smart home/community/grid. But to those who provide technologies behind the scene, it makes billions of dollars of difference.

In addition, Greg talked about the following:

  • Hotspot program
  • Wi-Fi Direct
  • 60 GHz and 5 GHz developments
  • AHAM assessment

Hotspot Program

As indicated below, the major player of mobile networking is data rather than voice.

The Wi-Fi Alliance is working on a certification program to make it easy to get connected to service providers’ hotspots. This is very important, as many users are mobile and would like to get online anywhere they go—coffee shops, airports, hotels, conferences, and other places.

Wi-Fi Direct

Wi-Fi direct enables each Wi-Fi-ready device to talk to another without a hotspot. The picture above really describes its service and technology well.

Long ago, there was a consortium of companies named Salutation that wanted to accomplish the same thing as Wi-Fi Direct. The technology attracted many Japanese office automation companies and even HP in the US. But it did not attract enough mainstream players and disbanded itself some time ago. I liked the idea and supported the spread of the technology. So when Greg showed me this, I was so glad that finally the Wi-Fi Alliance, which is influential, made it happen.

The idea is very simple. Devices that speak Wi-Fi can communicate with one another automatically without any human intervention. For example, I can send my file on my mobile phone to a printer for printout. My mobile phone and the printer negotiate for each other’s ability and choose the right configuration and capability. My picture on the phone may be in color, but the connected printer may only print in black and white. If no other printer with color copy ability is around, the file will be printed on that printer in black and white.

60 GHz and 5 GHz Developments

The current 802.11 uses two frequency bands, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz. 802.11b uses the 2.4 GHz band, while 802.11a uses the 5 GHz band. Moreover, 802.11n uses both 2.4 GHz and 5GHz.

In addition to 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, IEEE is working on 802.11ad in the 60 GHz range for approval in 2012 to support rates up to 6Gbits per second. Such speed is necessary to stream videos. The 5 GHz enhancement is IEEE 802.11ac to increase its speed to up to 1 Gbit per second.

As hardware cost goes down, it might make more sense to place the native IP stack on a sensor rather than on the 802.15.4 layer. I wonder if that will happen anytime soon. We are living in an exciting time.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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