Cisco, Itron to jointly design smart energy grid communications

Joint effort aims to help ensure reliable and consistent delivery of electricity from multiple companies

Networking giant Cisco today announced an alliance with Itron, a Liberty Lake, Wash.-based utility metering technology company, to develop secure Internet Protocol (IP) communications technology for so-called smart energy grids that connect wired and wireless networks.

The two companies will jointly develop a reference design for standards-based secure communications technology that Cisco plans to incorporate into its Network Interface Cards and other networking gear.

Cisco said that the design will be based on IPv6 technology , instead of currently used IPv4. No timetable for delivering the IPv6 technology was announced.

Cisco said the networking technology will be standards-based, and that Itron will be its first customer. Cisco also expects to sell the communications technology to other customers that provide smart grid technology, including meters, said Paul De Martini, CTO of Cisco's Smart Grid unit, noting that the pact with Itron is not exclusive.

Smart grids are ultimately designed to provide consistent and reliable delivery of energy across an electric distribution system made up of many electric utilities, distribution networks, smart meters and connections to homes and businesses.

"It's an end-to-end approach to smart grid architecture [that can] manage constrained energy resources," said Laura Ipsen, general manager of the Smart Grid unit. "It's a major step forward to the realization of a modern, more intelligent energy infrastructure."

The Cisco-Itron design can help transform today's smart meters and related systems into open and interoperable networks for all utilities to use, the companies said.

Wired and wireless communications need to interoperate so that utilities can move electricity easily to areas of high demand, they added. De Martini said electric utilities in North America are especially interested in using mesh wireless communications in the 900 MHz band.

Itron plans to license and embed Cisco's IP networking technology within Itron's OpenWay meters and will also distribute Cisco networking gear and software when it deploys the smart meters.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen , or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His e-mail address is .

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