Top Benefits of RF Mesh Networks
As utilities commit to building smart grids, they must examine the pros and cons of the technologies behind a core piece of network architecture: RF Mesh.
A globally recognized wireless network model, the RF Mesh consists of flexible radio nodes that operate in a self-guided, resilient manner. The main RF Mesh benefit is that it can connect utility customers with smart grid systems in the densest and most complicated urban environments, while having the functionality to communicate with more traditional grid systems, whether fiber optics or cell phone towers.
The flexibility of RF Mesh is making it more popular with utilities. Indeed, a recent Silver Spring Networks survey found that 65% of surveyed utilities will consider using RF Mesh in the next decade, putting it only behind fiber optics in popularity. Further, research firm Chartwell has found 42% of surveyed utilities prefer RF Mesh as their top way to empower smart meter systems, according to Greentech Media. Only tower-based communications systems come close to competing with the benefits of RF Mesh networks in achieving such goals.
To better understand RF Mesh’s place in shaping future grid communications, it can help to review some core technology features that help differentiate it in the marketplace; here are a few of the top benefits of mesh networks.
Dynamic Routing. Perhaps the most innovative aspect of RF Mesh is its ability allow networks to overcome failed radio nodes independently, as healthy nodes pull together following a failure and forge new data pathways. This so-called dynamic routing, or “adaptive routing,” allows RF Mesh networks to lay claim to glowing buzz words such as self-healing and self-adaptive. Due to this resilience, utilities use RF Mesh to address emerging grid challenges in areas such as fault detection, while also building out advanced metering infrastructure. (Click here for an academic report, Adaptive Routing in Network-on-Chips Using a Dynamic-Programming Network, that explains the growth of dynamic routing in the utility space.)
Dual-Band Mesh. Industry firms such as Silver Spring Networks have been strong proponents of dual-band mesh capabilities. Under this approach, utilities can offer two different bands of meshing, 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz, to grid customers. As a result, utilities can better tailor their services to business partners, who may prefer MHz over GHz or vice versa. Of course this is not the only functionality that utilities emphasize in their marketing, as firms are quick to call attention to the system’s speed, data collection prowess, and “line of site” communications of up to 50 miles. (Click here for Silver Spring’s presentation, as seen on YouTube, of its dual-band mesh model as well as its broader research on RF Mesh network benefits.)
Push to Centralized Performance Monitoring. A side effect of RF Mesh’s growth is its advancement of centralized performance monitoring systems, especially as utilities connect the technology to more traditional systems. This trend will help utilities move away from the traditional siloed approach for monitoring specific areas of utility performance toward a more multi-focused model. For example, as part of its embrace of RF Mesh technology, utility SK Telecon Americas has adopted a unified way to monitor its diverse network set, according to Electric Energy Online. This means executives can weigh the effectiveness of RF Mesh, cellular, PLC, fiber optic and satellite models holistically with real time data, and track which one is best meeting the firm’s service goals.
Overall, as more utilities invest in smart grids, expect to see greater activity around RF Mesh adoption. Indeed, firms that fail to consider such networks may be putting their firms at a competitive disadvantage, especially as consumers come to expect more from utility providers.