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Combining the ONT and Smart Meters

In my recent blog on utilities and the NBN I mentioned that the ultimate prize would be a combination of the ONT (Optical network terminal: the network interface device used in fibre-to-the-home applications, which operates as a demarcation point between the local loop of the carrier and the wiring in the user premises) and intelligent gateway the electricity company need for their smart meters and home energy networks. Perhaps I should expand on this a little…

What I actually meant by that was that a cooperative effort would be preferable when looking at what devices are needed to bring a smart grid and a broadband connection into user premises. Then, if the broadband and electricity utilities industries both arrive at the conclusion—that further cooperation on devices is possible—that course of action should be taken.

However, cooperating doesn’t mean finding the one-size-fits-all solution. We will all be better served by an overarching infrastructure that provides a maximum competitive environment for services that we might want to group together under the banner of the digital economy.

It is also important to realise that, while we are concentrating here on the NBN, equally important parallel infrastructure is in place that provides both different and overlapping services. The mobile broadband infrastructure is perhaps the most important here, but there is also separate yet partially overlapping and complementary infrastructure for terrestrial digital TV, wireless broadband, satellite—as well as, for the time being at least, copper-based and HFC infrastructure.

People will intuitively use different access technologies for different services (PCs, TVs, mobile phones). However there are other reasons why a diverse set of technologies makes sense. There are safety and security issues. We need redundancy and we need alternatives for the more critical services that are carried over a single network. For critical utility services (SCADA) the utilities could use their own private fibre, while still using NBN P2P services for redundant/backup paths.

It is within that context that different sectors will need to sit down together and discuss the trans-sector use of infrastructure. Based on ‘truly’ shared infrastructure models, and based on advanced IP technologies, the network security and privacy should be provided at the logical layer. And much of the reliability and availability comes from having architecture with redundant paths rather than just trying to replicate and optimise this in each individual network.

But the decisions that are made during these cooperative discussions should certainly not have the effect of limiting competition or flexibility in relation to the delivery of whatever services will be available to the user.

For instance, I envisage the ONT as a rather simple device that users will be able to connect to a modem, through which a range of different independent services (telecoms, entertainment, healthcare and education) can be delivered. Also, for people requiring monitoring services who don’t use any NBN services, the ONT could perhaps be used directly by the Health Department to supply access to the home.

But, equally, these services could also be delivered via the modem/router—in other words, maximum flexibility.

The smart meter could be a gateway to certain home automation services; but the ONT could, in principle, be used for that purpose also. We need to keep the device as flexible as possible. Perhaps the electricity company could bring in its own ‘ONT’ (gateway) to which it connects its smart meters, and in addition this device could be a gateway to other devices that could be used, for example, for HAN applications.

So my point is that as long as a large degree of flexibility is allowed for the broadband and electricity companies should find the most efficient ways to work together.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication

Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located here.

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Second fiber? Frank Bulk  –  Apr 3, 2010 5:22 AM

Lighting up a second fiber is expensive.  Much cheaper to leverage/extend existing hardware.


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