Wireless routers for smart grids

January 30, 2012 // By Rick Merritt
Cisco Systems is shipping its first routers geared for networks of smart meters. The Series 1000 routers are part of a second wave of smart grid systems from a business unit the company set up two years ago to address the emerging market for digital networked utilities.

The routers can aggregate traffic from more than 200 smart electric meters over a 900 MHz Internet Protocol network. Data is sent back to utility substations over optional 2G, 3G or WiMax links.

The routers were designed to work over wired or wireless IPv6 networks with Itron’s Openway smart meter system as part of a partnership the two companies announced last year. The latest routers were officially announced on Jan. 17.

The model 1240 router is designed to be installed on utility poles in the US. The model 1120 is geared for sealed outdoor boxes used in Europe. Both are ruggedized for extreme weather conditions, substation standards such as IEEE 1613 and IEC 61850-3, use versions of existing Cisco router chips and have up to five slots to accommodate different wireless module options.

In tandem with the new routers, Cisco is rolling out LTE modules based on Sierra Wireless chips for its Series 2000 routers announced last year. The LTE modules link the routers in transmission and distribution substations to a variety of power monitoring and control systems installed there. The LTE modules are currently sold through Verizon with versions for AT&T and other utilities in the works.

In addition, Cisco announced its Connected Grid Network Management System, software to monitor and manage as many as ten million end points including the Series 1000 routers and smart meters. It also announced new services offerings.

Some utilities are planning to transition their substation networks from ISDN and DSL to LTE. They are also making plans to migrate so-called field-area networks from 2G and 3G to WiMax because WiMax supports greater distances between hops, said Sanket Amberkar, a director of product management for Cisco.

The company's smart grid group now has 85 paying customers including BC Hydro (Burnaby, British Columbia) and Sempra Energy (San Francisco), both of which are using the new Cisco 1000 series routers.

Cisco's Series 1000 router is a