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Middle mile challenges emerging in smart grid deployment

By Max Burkhalter
April 19, 2012
By combining advanced utility measurement and delivery tools with contemporary information and communications technology elements, utility providers are able to build a grid that is far more intelligent, energy efficient and operationally sustainable than current infrastructure. However, a recent Intelligent Utility report explained that the industry also faces challenges in deciding the best way to establish infrastructure to support smart grid systems.

The core problem is in the middle mile, the location between the underlying backhaul network and the utility provider network. The place where monitoring devices, sensor equipment and other tools will track power distribution, allowing vendors and consumers alike to better understand how they are using their power and how to manage it more effectively, the report said.

This part of the network is usually wireless or mobile in nature, as it has to connect diverse device types, ranging from sensors to meters. However, it is highly dependent on the underlying wired network that it connects to, which helps dictate its bandwidth and speed. The problem, according to the report, is that utility providers are struggling to decide on the type of middle mile network they need.

While the requisite technology is clear, deciding whether to establish a private network - that is complex and difficult to manage, but easier to secure - or a public network - which allows for greater interaction with consumers, but also presents considerable risk - is extremely challenging. In the end, the news source said there is not a clear solution that will definitely work for every utility vendor. Instead, each organization will need to evaluate its specific needs and match their network setup to those requirements. The report predicted most providers will eventually turn to hybrids of the two broad types of middle mile networks, creating solutions that fit their needs while working around the limitations of each technological setup.

Establishing network infrastructure to build an effective smart grid can be difficult, but the potential gains offered by the technology are considerable. Because of this, utility providers need to look to supporting solutions that will allow them to streamline deployment and more easily vary the network infrastructure as needed for different parts of the setup. Media conversion technology can be ideal in meeting this need, as it allows providers to switch between various protocols and cabling formats with relative ease.

Perle has an extensive range of Managed and Unmanaged Fiber Media Converters to extended copper-based Ethernet equipment over a fiber optic link, multimode to multimode and multimode to single mode fiber up to 160km.


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