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IPv6 and Prepaid Electricity

When visiting a friend in the UK in my student days some decades ago, he asked me at one point in time if I had some coins to keep the electricity meter going. This was the first and last time I saw a coin activated electricity meter. In my mind, prepaid electricity now essentially belonged to a distant past when Scrooge like landlords would make sure renters did not disappear without paying their electricity bills.

On a recent business trip however, I realized that prepaid electricity has rather adapted well to the modern age with electronic readers and even prepaid cards, just like for telephony. In India, prepaid metering is in fact quite common as is also the case in a number of former British colonies including South Africa. Not only that, the popularity of prepaid electricity is growing as the Times of India reported recently, citing the city of Pune.

Smart grids are a hot topic everywhere including here in Canada where our ITAC Smart Grid Committee is quite active and participation proves interesting. International standards that govern smart meter data exchange are more advanced than widely assumed. A closer look at the PLC G3 spec for example, shows 6lowpan and compressed IPv6 on the network and transport layer. On the application level, we find the data exchange formats with electric meters defined by ANSI C12 in North America and IEC62056 in Europe.

This is not just talk. In a North American first, BC Hydro announced that they would deploy IPv6 smart grid architecture as an element of its Smart Metering Program and started to replace its 1.8 million electromechanical meters. They had looked at Smart Grids since 2005 but the 2010 the BC Clean Energy Act mandated smart meters and thereby provided the impetus needed. Canadian Big Telco ices the IPv6 puck and Big Hydro scores.

The e-age incarnation of the old electricity coin eater even finds renewed respect in the marketplace. A recent study by Pike Research forecasts a growing market with the number of prepaid meters growing from a current 20 million worldwide to 33.7 million by 2017. Another study in the US shows that consumers actually like prepaid and save more than 10% on their electricity bill. In an age where going green and browsing for the best deal are fashionable, the Pike Research forecast might even turn out to be conservative.

Nowadays, my long lost British friend might even be reloading his electricity counter by m-payment. He might shiver if his prepaid voice account ran out and his phone battery was about to die while the lights went dark and the heater turned silent on a damp and humid London winter night.

By Yves Poppe, Director, Business Development IP Strategy at Tata Communications

(Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in these articles are solely those of the author and are not in any way attributable to nor reflect any existing or planned official policy or position of his employer in respect thereto.)

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