Saturday, October 31, 2009

Mesh network for Victorian smart meters

Responding to my post on WiMax smart meters, Robin Whittle responded with
"electricity meters use Zigbee and 915-928 MHz mesh", Fri Oct 30 17:56:59 EST 2009:
Two Victorian distributors - Jemena and United Energy, are going to use meters from PRI in the UK with a Silver Spring radio card (NIC):

The Jemena information shows a particular meter:

This looks the same as a particular meter shown here, a PRI meter with a Silver Spring NIC (radio card):

The meter is from PRI in the UK:

The radio interface (NIC), with a 1 watt transmitter: "dynamically discovers and self-heals its Neighborhood Area Network (NAN), notifies the Smart Energy Network of outages and restorations."

The datasheet: shows that while the meter uses Zigbee to communicate with devices in the home, it uses some unspecified protocol for its connection to the outside world.

"High data rate communications between the back office and the Meter, allow for thousands of meters to be read in minutes."

Two-way 915-928 MHz FHSS (Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum) communications
Dynamic network discovery and self-healing
Supports scheduled and on-demand meter reads
Supports "over-the-air" firmware upgrades, meter programming and tariff changes
Optional GSM / GPRS modem (in ETBC)
Data rate 100 kbps
Spread Spectrum Technology FHSS
Channels 43
Modulation Binary FSK
All the type approvals are for Australia.

The diagram shows a mesh between the meters, presumably using the 915-928 MHz FHSS system, and part of the mesh is "access points" which may be connected back to base via GSM-GPRS, Ethernet or CDMA. I guess they could use 3G too.

So from this, it seems they will plonk access points around the place and talk to them via GSM/3G, and each one of these will communicate directly or indirectly with a large number of meters. This sounds like a good arrangement to me.

I think that in country areas there may be such isolated meters that there would be a single access point, presumably linked back to base by GSM-GPRS. In principle it may be possible to put a GSM modem in the meter, but perhaps it would be simpler to keep all the meters much the same, and dedicate an access point on the nearby power pole for each isolated home.

I hope they won't turn on the ZigBee system by default. That would be another 2.4GHz transmitter in every house - in an already widely used frequency band.

We should have a Jemena meter installed in the next few months. Does anyone near here (north-eastern suburbs of Melbourne) have a 2.4 GHz scanner to see if it is emitting anything?

According to: the 915 to 928 MHz band is "Radiolocation" and most of it, 915 to 926 MHz, is an ISM (Industrial Scientific and Medical) applications band. I understand this is used for RFID. Does anyone know more about this part of the spectrum?

Tom Worthington has a page discussing another distributor's plans to use WiMax to the "smart" meters...

This will involve "Motorola WiMAX WAP 650 base stations on 2.3GHz connected by a microwave system". This looks a lot more expensive and presumably involves licensed spectrum and expensive microwave or fibre links.

Since almost all of the locations where there are electricity meters are covered by GSM or a 3G network already, I think the GSM/3G access point, with 915 MHz ISM band mesh network approach looks technically and economically the most attractive. However, the system relies on unlicensed spectrum.
Yes, SP AusNet plans to use spectrum licensed to Unwired. WiMax can use a mesh architecture, so they could reduce the number of base stations to lower the cost a bit, but this will cost more than the Jemena and United Energy approach.

But I suspect SP AusNet plans to create a wireless network suitable for selling broadband services, not just smart meters. As an example, if they put a WiFi chip in the smart meter, then they can offer a wireless broadband service to the household and to the street. Assuming that every second house in the street has such a meter, that would provide
complete wireless coverage of a suburb. Apart from data services, this could provide telephony (there would not be enough bandwidth for TV).

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

WiMAX Wireless broadband and the National Broadband Network

WiMAX wireless broadband will provide and ADSL2+ equivalent service according to a media release from the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Stephen Conroy: "Adelaide blackspots to get high speed broadband". The service will be provided by Adelaide company Adam Internet and subsidised by the government's Australian Broadband Guarantee. However, Adam are only offering up to 12Mbps, whereas ADSL2+ is capable of up to 24 Mbit/s. It would be more accurate to describe the service as similar to ADSL2, which has data rates up to 12 Mbit/s.

WiMax was central to the previous government's plan for broadband ("WiMAX technology supported worldwide", Media Release 84/07, Senator the Hon Helen Coonan, Minister for Communications, Information Technology and the Arts, 20 June 2007). That plan was overliant on WiMax. However, the technology has advanced in the interim and should provide a useful supplement for other technologies in areas where it is difficult, or uneconomic to lay cable.

The new government's plan to aim for fibre optic cable to most of Australia is a good one, provided you not not assume that it will be achieved. It is more likely that we will have a mix of technologies, with fibre cable in new urban areas, where it can be cost justified. ADSL will remain in use in most areas for the foreseeable future, supplemented by various wireless technologies.

Joint media release

Senator the Hon Stephen Conroy
Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy
Deputy Leader of the Government in the Senate

Hon Michael O’Brien MP
Minister for Science and Information Economy

Adelaide blackspots to get high speed broadband

Residents living in broadband blackspot areas across the Adelaide metropolitan area are set to receive a state-of-the-art wireless broadband network.

The network will be jointly funded by the State and Federal governments along with leading Internet Service Provider - Adam Internet - which will deliver the service.

"This investment will deliver high-speed broadband to homes and businesses across Adelaide suburbs in advance of the National Broadband Network," the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy said today.

"Broadband is an important part of family and business life and this project will help ensure more people in metropolitan Adelaide have access to high-speed broadband services," Senator Conroy said.

SA Minister for Science and Information Economy, Michael O’Brien said Adam Internet, a SA based company, had won the contract to construct the network because of its strong track record and position as one of the industry’s leading Internet Service Providers.

"This contract will initially create an extra 110 jobs during the network construction and customer connection phase with 75 permanent jobs required in the longer term for ongoing operation and maintenance," Mr O’Brien said.

"Work will begin almost immediately on addressing more than 350 blackspot locations across Adelaide. First connections are marked for significant problem areas in Reynella and other southern suburbs.

"About 10 per cent of residential, commercial and industrial, properties across metropolitan Adelaide are unable to use ADSL, the most common form of broadband access," Mr O’Brien said.

Adam Internet Chairman, Greg Hicks said the Broadband Blackspot project was terrific news for affected SA households with residents finally being delivered technology solutions comparable with – or better than – those of their neighbours.

"Adam Internet is proud to deliver the first metropolitan roll-out of WiMAX – Adam Max – ensuring these customers receive ADSL2+ equivalent services," Mr Hicks said.

"AdamMax will effectively blanket metropolitan Adelaide, lighting up blackspot areas and providing a service that is fast, reliable and value for money. We are excited to partner with the Federal and State governments to deliver this service."

The 15 month rollout - which will see the first WiMAX service area coming online in October this year - will be supported by an initial $3 million investment from South Australia’s Broadband Development Fund and ongoing contributions from the Commonwealth’s Australian Broadband Guarantee.

"The Rudd Government is making strong progress to deliver the National Broadband Network, but also wants to ensure better services as this historic project is rolled out," Senator Conroy said.

"The Australian Broadband Guarantee helps deliver fast and affordable broadband to people in blackspot areas, as well as increasing competition in the broadband market."

Mr O’Brien said the broadband blackspot initiative would bolster the South Australian economy.

"A study by economics consulting firm, Systems Knowledge Concepts Pty Ltd (SKC) has shown that the economic benefit to the State of this initiative is estimated to be more than $87 million over five years," Mr O’Brien said.

"The State Government’s Information Economy Agenda 2009-2014 paper sets a vision and framework for delivering South Australia’s digital future. The Broadband Blackspot Project will help us to work towards achieving our digital goals," Mr O’Brien said.

For more information on the Federal Government’s Australian Broadband Guarantee Adelaide blackspots to get high speed broadband, Stephen Conroy,Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, 14 August 2009

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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Broadcaster Bailout Boosts Bush Broadband

Yesterday AUSTAR announced it would sell 2.3GHz AND 3.5GHz spectrum to the Optus/ Elders OPEL venture for their WiMAX network in regional Australia. As I mentioned in a series of talks on broadband in regional Australia last September, the lack of dedicated spectrum was a flaw in the original Opel plan, which the Austar deal now largely solves.

AUSTAR originally purchased the spectrum for Pay TV. Opel's WiMax network would be technically capable of carrying Pay TV, but there is no mention of it in the announcement and Optus provide a rival Pay TV service. There may be a need for the government to legislate to require open access for Pay TV on the WiMax system.

The ALP's broadband policy did not specifically mention WiMax and during the election campaign they criticized its coverage. However, it is likely the new ALP government will include it in the plans and it would provide a lower cost way to provide services outside the range of ADSL.

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Wireless Broadband for Regional Australia

In September I gave a series of talks on broadband in regional Australia. , including the WiMAX/IEEE 802.16 wireless service being set up be the OPEL consortium (with a government subsidy). In October Professor Reg Coutts, Director of the ACS Telecommunications Board, had a very useful article published comparing different WiMax options and 3G for rural broadband.

Professor Coutt argues that the 5.8GHz band Opel proposes to use is not suitable for broad WiMAX deployment, but that 2.3GHz would be for rural Australia except the Northern Territory. As he points out most of the 2.3GHz band is held by another company, Austar. Unwired already provide a service in some Australian cities based on "pre-WiMAX" technology (I use a similar service from iBurst).

I share Professor Coutt's skepticism over the claims for early adoption of WiMax and, as he points out, rooftop antennas will be needed to get adequate range out of it in regional Australia.

However, in my opinion, it is ultimately an issue of economics not technology: can Optel get enough customers for their WiMax service to provide a return on their investment? One way this might happen is by the customers paying for more of the cost of the infrastructure. By requiring the customers to have longer range roof mounted antennas, Opel can build fewer base stations. If they were to also implement a mesh network, or WiFi redistribution, that would further spread the cost and may make the system pay for itself quicker.

...WiMAX has arisen very rapidly in parallel with mobile technologies such as 3G as a serious alternative in many applications. The purpose of this article is to help separate fact from hyperbole that inherently pervades the technology space. ...

WiMAX conforms to two broad standards, the IEEE802.16d standard decided in 2004 for which certified equipment is available and the other mobile WiMAX IEEE802.16e standard decided in 2005 for which certified equipment has yet to appear. ...

In Australia Telstra has rolled out its 3G network Next G at 850MHz to encompass the earlier rural CDMA network which in addition to providing 3G mobile services can with the upgrade to HSPA offer wireless broadband service to rural users. ...

A new player OPEL, jointly owned by Optus and Elders, now has won the Government contract to roll out a wireless broadband service by June 2009 in competition with Telstra based on WiMAX. ...

As well as doing a broad comparative assessment of WiMAX and HSPA for their claimed benefits, my analysis has considered a "hypothetical rural town" where DSL is range limited to 4km from a central exchange. From our modelling and canvassing of industry-wide perspectives, it is my opinion that both WiMAX at 2.3GHz and HSPA at 850MHz for rural application can provide similar user data rates of 8-12 Mbit/s expected of ADSL1 and ADSL2+ within what is termed the dominance zone of a single base station site. ...

While the dominance zone would be about 8km out from the base station, the service area for acceptable service would extend beyond this out to nearly 20km for WiMAX and 35km for HSPA, but where the user data rate would drop to about 2Mbit/s. ...

In summary, I believe that the WiMAX technology developments will divert the longer term technology evolution towards 4G which will exploit the flexibility strengths of WiMAX.

However, in my opinion it is critical that Australia maintain its credibility as a sophisticated, timely adopter of the best of global technology and should resist being used as a test market to reduce technology risk for global suppliers rather than supporting sustainable rural infrastructure investment. ...

From: "Rural broadband wireless", Prof Reg Coutts,Information Age, 23/10/2007 00:37:41

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Australian Wireless Broadband with consumer cooperation?

Media reports indicate that UK company Fon have done a deal with telco BT to provide home WiFi hotspots. The idea is that consumers can allow their home broadband connected WiFi to be accessible to others, in return for access to theirs or for a fee. If this works as a business model it could be applied to lower the cost or extend the coverage of the Opel WiMax network.

Using $958 million from the Australian Government "Australia Connected" program, OPEL (joint venture of Optus and Elders) will install 1,361 WiMax base stations (mostly on existing Optus phone towers). Each base station is supposed to have a range of 20 km, but even so will have difficulty covering the proposed 638,000 square kilometres by the planned 30 June 2009. This will particularly a problem in hilly parts of Australia, as was pointed out to me by the local wireless pioneers when I gave talks on broadband in Tasmania last month.

Opel have not finalized the details of exactly what version of WiMax or frequencies they will use. They have indicated they are likely to choose 802.16d (aka 802.16-2004 or "fixed MiMax"). WiMax on the 5.4GHz or 5.8GHz spectrum under a class licence.

One way to make the networks stretch further would be to make use of the consumer installed equipment to relay the service to other consumers. There is work underway on 802.16j, mobile multi-hop relay (MMR) extensions to MiMax. This would allow a mesh, grid, or repeaters to route data through one or more customer units to extend the range of the network. Those standards are not ready, but Opel might choose a pre-standard implementation from one vendor.

Also Opel could extend the reach of the network, by having WiFi hotspots on the consumer WiMax base stations, as Fon/BT are doing in the UK. This copuld be used to relay the service around a set of farm buildings, between small hobby farms or in a town. This could also be used with WiFi equipped smartphones, PDAs and cordless handsets, to provide a home phone service.

See also:

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Broadband for Our Broad Land

The Australian Government announced that the Optus consortium (OPEL) will deploy wireless WiMAX network providing up to 12 Mbps broadband for regional Australia. This is to reach 99% of the Australian population by June 2009.

There is a web page with a summary of the policy, plus details in:
The choice of Wi Max is a reasonably safe technical choice. It is likely that some local research and development will be needed to get it to work and will be able to extend the coverage of WiMax in rural areas. Overseas research on wireless has emphasized maximizing bandwidth, whereas Australia needs long range to minimize the cost of base stations. WiMax uses similar technology to the current iBurst service and the Canberra "Longreach" service. In towns at short range mobile units can be used. For longer range out of town a roof mounted antenna may be needed.

While there is some good content in the policy it has been made less than credible by an over hyped media release, claiming "Australia has now entered into a whole new broadband era with speeds 20 to 40 times faster than those used by most consumers today, with the first Australia Connected broadband network services to be switched on immediately".

On a more positive note the policy acknowledges that it is not technically or economically feasible to supply the same level of service to all Australians. Sparsely populated regional areas cannot be serviced to the same level as urban areas. The policy envisages 12 megabit per second broadband services to rural and regional townships.

The selection of 12 megabits per second by mid 2009 is a reasonable achievable target, with more promised later. However, to describe this as "metro-comparable broadband services”" is misleading as by then meto areas will be able to have far faster services (50 mbps or more).

The Government claims that two proposals are also "on the table" to build an fibre optic network and so there will be "no delay in getting this underway". In reality there are very difficult technical and regulatory issues to be resolved. The two proposals by Telstra and Optus each have their problems and whoever is not selected may tie up the process in appeals and court cases for years.

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