Grid Week: A telecom missed opportunity

This week I attend my first Grid Week conference in Washington D.C., but I wasn’t the only newbie there. In contrast to most telecom trade shows this year, this jam-packed conference, in its third year of existence, sold out. The mostly vendor-driven show did have one important (at least to Connected Planet) segment missing, however – telecom service providers.

To be fair, it’s possible I missed some telcos roaming around at the crowded show. AT&T had a small table and Verizon had a few speakers on the panels. As an international show, it also attracted representatives from SK Telecom, looking at ways to get involved with smart grid in Korea as it plans to expand its network to complete a nationwide smart grid by 2030, according to an SK Telecom spokeswoman.

Even so, while speakers recognized the criticalness of communication infrastructure – Adrian Clark, Manger of Intelligent Network at EnergyAustralia’s Smart Grid Program called it the glue of the grid that holds the smart grid together – that was as far as telco discussions went. There was also a surprising lack of recognition of third party services like those from Google and Microsoft.

Speakers ranging from utilities to vendors to government officials and standards bodies repeatedly stressed the need for more consumer education on the benefits of the smart grid and how the business model works. This is definitely true as most consumers today seem to be either unaware or uninterested in changing their behavior, but the consumers aren’t the only ones that could benefit from education. Telcos have a real opportunity to make more noise in the grid – educate utilities on the benefits of IP, emphasize the security of their networks and their depth of consumer familiarity and make a more active push to move from network provider to services provider.

These discussions are underway off the showfloor today as the smart grid market is still in its very early days. As many pointed out, there is room for lots of players to grab a piece of the action. Going forward, the smart grid will likely be one defined by partnerships, M&A among the list of smaller vendors and adaptation as utilities learn what level of interaction consumers want in their home. Next year’s Grid Week is already projected to be so huge they’re moving it to the Washington Convention Center. With the stimulus money doled out and trials moving into actual deployments, it will be an even more exciting show – and hopefully more telcos agree next year.

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