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By Jesse Berst
Whether you realize it or not, if you are taking part in the smart grid, you are also taking part in the larger Internet of Things (IoT). After nearly two decades of predictions that the IoT was "just around the corner," it now appears that the smart grid will be the first example at scale.
Like most nascent sectors, the IoT is held back by a lack of standards-- or, more accurately, by an oversupply of approaches fighting it out to become de facto standards. Nowhere is this more true than in wireless personal area networks where a half dozen approaches and variants are slugging it out, including WiFi and Zigbee and ZWave and IEEE802.15.4 and the 6LoWPAN variant. (I even think future 5G cellular varieties could eventually compete, though I'm in the minority, with most people believing cellular will only be a wide area solution.)
Whenever we have standards wars it is the users who are caught in the crossfire. They are the ones that risk choosing the wrong standard and ending up stranded. But the folks at Harbor Research -- perhaps the world's leading IoT research house -- say they know where the future is headed.
First, they confirm what we all have come to believe. Namely, that the world will use Internet Protocol to link the various network flavors because "there really isn't another viable alternative available." Second, they say that WiFi will eventually win the wars. "From our perspective... low power WiFi is likely to become the higher volume winner with IEEE802.15.4 / ZigBee / 6loWPAN becoming a set of niche network standards for specialist applications where interoperability and IP are not required."
(I can't think of any application, specialist or not, where you would not prefer IP and interoperability, but maybe someone will use the Comment form below to fill me in.)
So there you have one prediction of the future. According to Harbor Research, WiFi chips will quickly evolve to use less power, so they will no longer be at a disadvantage. And they will have the lowest cost since they'll be produced at greater volumes.
That's just one prediction. The other variants all have devoted followers, who will strongly disagree. Proceed with caution. As Harbor Research puts it: "fully understanding the trade-offs between power and bandwidth across all network topologies and traffic types is a necessity and our research... has revealed much misinformation and protectionism by the various players." Let us know your opinion by voting in the Quick Poll.
Click the Page 2 link if you want read the full posting from Harbor Research, which also includes a link to their brand new report on the future of wireless personal area networks.
Jesse Berst is the founder and chief analyst of Smart Grid News.com, the industry's oldest and largest smart grid site. A frequent keynoter at industry events in the U.S. and abroad, he also serves on advisory committees for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the Institute for Electric Efficiency. He often provides strategic consulting to large corporations and venture-backed startups. He is a member of the advisory boards of GridGlo and Calico Energy Services.
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