Smart-grid and WiMAX technologies quickly are becoming intertwined, as utilities around the world have begun announcing their intentions to test smart-grid networks based on WiMAX.

Last month, Australian utility SP AusNet announced plans to build its own WiMAX network using gear from Motorola, software from Grid Net and smart meters from General Electric, which has teamed with Intel to develop a WiMAX chip that is embedded in the meters.

The network, which operates in the 2.3 GHz band, will be designed to monitor electricity usage for more than 680,000 customers in Victoria by 2013.

U.S. utilities are committed to WiMAX, too, and others are studying it. For instance, CenterPoint Energy in Texas was the first utility in the United States to put a stake in the ground for WiMAX; it wants to install smart meters for its 2.4 million customers in Houston using a self-contained WiMAX network. National Grid, the country's second-largest utility, is establishing a proof-of-concept solution using Alvarion's WiMAX gear as part of a test bed for potential pilot projects in New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Meanwhile, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison also are studying ways to use WiMAX in smart-grid deployments.

The primary appeal of WiMAX is its open platform and the promise of enabling a host of other data-intensive applications on top of it. But the technology still carries high equipment and chipset costs. WiMAX chipsets are in the $30 range today. They need to fall into the single-digit range to be cost effective for the smart grid. How fast can prices fall?

Clearwire is ramping up commercial deployments in the United States, while other operators in Japan and Korea aggressively are rolling out mobile WiMAX, too. But it likely will take some brave big utilities to jump into the fray in order to push prices down.

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