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6 November 2015

Wi-SUN and Wirepas take aim at smart grid IoT

In a digital society, electricity is paramount, and a lot of technical innovation occurs behind the scenes, out of sight of the consumer. The most prevalent trend in the increasingly smart grid is the adoption of smart meters, and this week, Finnish mesh networking specialist Wirepas has announced a 1.4m meter deal in Norway, while the Wi-SUN Alliance has announced support for new spectrum to handle the 802.15.4g protocol that the industry body advocates for.

The Wi-SUN Alliance was formed in 2011 to form an organization to push adoption of the IEEE 802.15.4g standard, which aimed to improve utility networks using a narrowband wireless technology. The peer-to-peer self-healing mesh has moved from its initial grid focus to encompass smart city applications (especially street lighting), and we spoke to its Chairman, Phil Beecher, to learn more.

Beecher explained that the non-profit Alliance set about defining subsets of the open standards, testing for interoperability, and certifying compatible products, and soon developed both a Field Area Network (FAN) and a Home Area Network (HAN), which allowed it to move into Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) in Japan – a country that is leading the curve in HEMS deployments and developments.

The list of promoter members includes some rather important names in this space: Analog Devices, Cisco, Omron, Murata, the National Institute of Information and Communication Technology, Renesas, Silver Spring Networks, Rohm Semiconductor, and Toshiba. Other prominent names in the other tiers include Access, Atmel, Duke Energy, EPRI, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Itron, Landis+Gyr, Mitsubishi Electric, Panasonic, Pacific Gas and Electric, Semtech, Texas Instruments, and Trilliant.

Beecher explained that the Alliance members were seeing increased interest from areas outside the current Japanese and US heartlands. Also growing is the popularity of the Wi-SUN implementation in smart cities, agriculture, and industrial deployments.

Due to this growing popularity, the Wi-SUN Alliance has recently made some moves to secure additional spectrum for the traditionally sub-GHz protocol. Last week, it announced that it would support the 870-876MHz band that has just been made available in Europe, and this week the group has moved to support implementations in the 2.4GHz ISM band. Beecher said this was a very exciting development.

Collectively, this provides a lot more room for the 6LoWPAN-ready protocol to play with. The Alliance would move to develop profiles for the standard, and then feed its results back into the IEEE – meaning that the 802.15.4g standard would be updated with the Alliance’s findings, in this case by ensuring support for the new bands and passing that solution along to the standards body.

On network architecture, Beecher noted that there is a lot of scope for hybrid networks, where WiSUN is used at the end-points but the data itself is backhauled to the cloud via cellular or WiMAX (a popular choice in the US, although Sprint has just shut down its WiMAX network).

Wirepas nets 1.4m Norwegian smart meters:

Elsewhere, Wirepas announced that Nordic utility Aidon has selected its Pino wireless mesh protocol to provide the automated metering infrastructure (AMI) connectivity for 1.4m metering points in the Norwegian grid – increasing the total of a precvious agreement. The Pino-powered meters will be providing hourly readings, as well as performance data on the wider grid to Aidon.

The largest single mesh network in the deployment consists of 700,000 devices, and with that many end-points, the small amounts of data that each node generates have a lot of time to be transmitted to their intended destination. Large mesh networks are more resilient than smaller ones, because they have more redundancy paths, and at 700,000 units, this is likely one of the biggest mesh networks in the world.

The Pino protocol itself treats each end-point as a self-regulating node, with a software stack provided for a one-off royalty fee. Currently hardware-agnostic in its design, the Pino stack is typically found on microcontrollers. It operates in the 868MHz and 915MHz ISM bands, which means that it is competing with an increasing number of devices also looking to use the unregulated spectrum to communicate. But with hourly polling rates, message repetition or initial-send failures can be accommodated by multiple sends or receipt acknowledgements.

Also this week, Finnish sensor manufacturer Nokeval released a new environmental sensor that uses Pino for sending temperature, humidity, air quality, and dust readings back to an Ovalink gateway unit. Wirepas also won the IoT Product Innovation Award at the European Utility Week convention.

Regarding the award, CEO Teppo Hemiä said “I see this as a recognition for the work we have done on the technology, but also for the market approach that we have. Yes we are a technology company, but we take the customer need as a starting point and that’s the road we are going to continue on.”

Aidon also praised Pino. “In Wirepas we have a committed partner. Pino wireless technology has played an important role in our success in Norway. We share a common interest in developing the competitiveness of our smart metering solution further,” said Marko Penttinen, Aidon’s Business Development Director. Wirepas’ CEO, Teppo Hemiä added that Pino had proven itself as a cost efficient, secure and reliable technology for such applications.