EnergyAustralia rules out commercial WiMAX interests

EnergyAustralia has ruled out becoming a retail service provider (RSP) under the National Broadband Network (NBN), despite its growing fibre and WiMAX-based infrastructure in NSW.

The energy retailer has established an extensive network consisting of 800km of fibre infrastructure, and is in the process of deploying 140 WiMAX base towers over an 18 month period around the state to deliver electricity usage from smart meters to EnergyAustralia data collection units and mobile field devices.

As part of the utility's winning tender for the Federal Government's Smart Grid, Smart City initiative, EnergyAustralia will roll out smart meters to 50,000 homes in Newcastle, Scone, Ku-ring-gai, Sydney CBD and Newington, with meters and potentially in-house displays ultimately connecting to 20 of the utility's WiMAX base stations.

A recommendation made in the initiative's pre-deployment report suggested the winning tenderer utilise the smart grid trial as a testbed for the National Broadband Network (NBN). EnergyAustralia's bid included this recommendation and intelligent networks manager, Adrian Clark, told Computerworld Australia the trial was a "good opportunity" for such tests.

"When we looked at the initiative through the tender process we highlighted a range of potential opportunities to investigate," Clark said. "In the areas where the NBN is looking to go on wireless infrastructure, clearly we'll obviously be able to have further discussions with them around what we're doing around that area."

This is particularly relevant in the rural town of Scone, situated in the Hunter region three and a half hours from Sydney. While trial sites have been selected in Tasmania and around Australia for the fibre-to-the-home (FTTH) portion of the NBN, trials are yet to be announced surrounding wireless aspects of the network, which are expected to ultimately provide 12Mbps broadband speeds to between four and seven per cent of regional Australians.

Clark said that EnergyAustralia had already had "a number of very positive conversations" with NBN Co, and would continue discussions with the NBN wholesaler over test results. He said that the obvious opportunities for the smart grid for the retailer were as a "service provider or service taker", but he ruled out the former as a possibility.

"That's not the intent of building the network, we haven't architected to do that and, to be quite honest with you, we don't have enough spectrum or enough base stations to ever really look at that as a business model."

The NBN Implementation Study delivered by consulting firms McKinsey Company and KPMG for the Federal Government's proposed nation-wide broadband network, suggested enterprises become RSPs to residents and businesses under the NBN by applying for a carrier licence.

EnergyAustralia's WiMAX network operates on a 15MHz band of 2.3GHz radio spectrum leased for $10 million from the Seven Group's Wireless Broadband Australia, and the utility expects to populate the network with up to two million smart meters and 3,000 mobile field computers once the a full roll out of the smart grid network is completed. However, Clark said the network was optimised for "machine to machine data", and devices other than smart meters would likely use local networks and other access methods rather than WiMAX where appropriate.

"We're focussed on getting the network built and getting the key things we've got to deliver. It's really designed around the thousands and thousands of machine to machine points we have on the network, our intention isn't to design it for those high end customer devices."


Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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