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Wi-Fi certification might be tweaked for smart grids

Task force to look at modifying IP standards for Wi-Fi devices as opportunity to become communication tool of choice between home appliance networks and smart grids becomes evident.

Correction at 2:33 a.m. PDT November 12: This story incorrectly stated the name of the wireless communications technology used by AlertMe. The system uses ZigBee.

The Wi-Fi Alliance has formed a task group to determine what standards need to be modified to ensure Wi-Fi is the tool of choice for smart-grid applications.

The nonprofit industry association that approves devices for the Wi-Fi Certified seal released a report Wednesday called "Wi-Fi for the Smart Grid: Mature, Interoperable, Security-Protected Technology for Advanced Utility Management Communications." The report expounds on all the possibilities for Wi-Fi as a communication tool for smart appliances, home area networks, neighborhood networks, and wide area networks integrating with smart grids. It also details how the standards being set by the U.S. Department of Energy for smart grids might affect Internet Protocol standards for Wi-Fi.

Wi-Fi seems like an obvious choice for electronics and appliances communicating with a wireless, smart grid-integrated system. The low-power, short-range data transmission method is already the dominant standard for digital communications among computers and electronics in wireless home and neighborhood networks.

Both GE and Whirlpool have said they are close to bringing smart appliances to the consumer market. But Whirlpool has said it's still waiting for an "open, global standard for transmitting signals to, and receiving signals from, a home appliance."

Google PowerMeter has already partnered with AlertMe in the U.K. on a do-it-yourself smart-appliance integration system for homes that bypasses the need for a smart meter and it relies on ZigBee not Wi-Fi. AlertMe relays information between a wireless hub that plugs into a home's broadband connection, smart plugs used by appliances throughout the house, and an electric meter monitor. It allows users to observe and regulate electricity use of their home appliances from anywhere in the world via Google's Web-accessible PowerMeter platform.

"Wi-Fi networks can be deployed to meet the Smart Grid requirements for robustness, manageability, performance, and security," according to the report.

But from the contents of the report, the Wi-Fi cognoscente also seem to realize that Wi-Fi device manufacturers will need to step it up if they want to provide the standard for smart-grid-related communications.

Dropped or insecure connections between a laptop and wireless network is one thing. But once Wi-Fi communications can affect appliances and electricity use, device irregularities or shortfalls in cybersecurity won't be tolerated by the U.S. government or consumers.