T-Mobile USA charged into the smart electrical grid business April 23, announcing an alliance with Echelon to provide Echelon with a first-of-its-kind embedded SIM within a cellular radio module. Echelon smart meters with the embedded SIM will send power usage and other electrical data back to a utility over the smart grid, and T-Mobile will offer Echelon users pricing plans for data usage.
Most AMI (advanced metering infrastructure) systems in the North American market require utilities to deploy their own wireless communications infrastructure, but smart meters using the new SIM module allows the data to be distributed over T-Mobile's GSM cellular network.
"We believe the initiative we have announced today with T-Mobile should fundamentally change the way utilities in North America think about deploying AMI systems," Jim Andrus, Echelon vice president of NES Sales Americas, said in a statement.
Andrus said aggressive pricing by carriers have already made using public wireless networks for backhaul of smart grid systems the norm in Europe. "We believe the programs we have put in place with T-Mobile can have the same impact on the North American market," Andrus said.
Echelon makes a family of highly integrated, advanced electronic electricity meters accessed through a Web services-based network operating system over an IP networking infrastructure. Unlike systems with a dedicated, proprietary radio per metering point, Echelon meters can share a single IP connection among all the meters on a given low voltage transformer, driving down the per-point connection cost and eliminating the need for the utility to build and maintain a dedicated private wireless network for their meters.
T-Mobile's SIM module is much smaller than traditional SIM cards embedded in cell phones and operate well in challenging environmental conditions.
"T-Mobile is excited to play a meaningful role in providing the communications infrastructure for these innovative services to flourish," said John Horn, national director for T-Mobile's M2M (machine-to-machine) business. "We expect innovation and adoption of smart grid solutions to accelerate."