Trilliant buys broadband wireless for smart grid

It acquires SkyPilot Networks, which has had a hand in municipal Wi-Fi, so it can build a broadband network from a home's smart meter back to utilities.

Martin LaMonica Former Staff writer, CNET News
Martin LaMonica is a senior writer covering green tech and cutting-edge technologies. He joined CNET in 2002 to cover enterprise IT and Web development and was previously executive editor of IT publication InfoWorld.
Martin LaMonica
2 min read

Trilliant on Thursday said it has acquired SkyPilot Networks to bring broadband wireless networking to utility smart-grid programs. Financial terms weren't disclosed.

The acquisition of SkyPilot Networks, which used to sell municipal Wi-Fi systems, will allow Trilliant to offer utilities a way to build a private broadband network, according to company executives.

So-called smart meters have a communications link back to utilities, which use that information to getter understanding of changes in demand to run the transmission grid more efficiently. Trilliant supplies radio communications cards that go into meters and software for utilities to run these networks.

To carry information from people's home meters back to the utilities' data centers, the route is combination of networks. Trilliant's gear can create a mesh network among different homes where it can then be transferred to an aggregation point such as a substation. Often, utilities rely on digital cellular networks for the "backhaul" network back to their data centers, said Eric Miller, the senior vice president of marketing at Trilliant.

With SkyPilot's base stations, utilities can do that backhaul network using relatively long-range Wi-Fi, Miller said. With the signal range as much as 10 miles, Trilliant imagines that SkyPilot's gear will be used to aggregate smart meter information in one city for transmission back to utilities or to be used to reach rural places that don't have good cellular service.

Another option for longer networking jumps is WiMax. General Electric, using Intel chips, is testing a WiMax-based system with utility CenterPoint. Cisco, too, said it is entering the smart grid area with a range of networking options.

Both WiMax and Wi-Fi offer faster bandwidth, which is important to communicate an outage or for demand-response applications. In general, broadband connection are important to realize the potential of the smart grid, letting utilities run many applications on the communications infrastructure, said Jesse Berst, the founding editor of Smart Grid News.

SkyPilots Wi-Fi mesh networking gear has the range of WiMax but is cheaper, said Brian Jenkins, director of marketing for the company. "We take standard chips and make system look like a WiMax in terms of range and capacity," he said.

The company will continue to serve its municipal Wi-Fi customers but shifted its focus to utilities recently, Jenkins said.