Alcatel-Lucent is taking a page from the playbook of networking competitor Cisco Systems and getting into smart grid projects.

The French company's latest smart meter trial is in Austria, where Alcatel-Lucent will help utility KELAG Netz manage smart meters in a 550-home pilot project, it announced this week.

Alcatel-Lucent is also working with Vodafone Germany and smart meter provider DIEHL Energy Solutions to offer a smart metering "package" to German utility Stadtwerke Pasewalk, extending a partnership with Diehl that began in February.

And last month is announced it was working with Deutsche Telekom on a 700-home trial in the German city of Friedrichshafen that includes smart electricity and gas meters.

Alcatel's "end-to-end" smart meter system includes networking and central meter data management, but it relies on its telecommunications partners to transport the data. Cellular networks are a common means of linking smart meter networks to utility control centers in Europe, while North America has seen more utilities choose to build their own wireless networks (see RF Mesh, ZigBee Top North American Utilities' Wish Lists).

Still, AT&T, Verizon, Sprint, Qualcomm and Deutsche Telekom's T-Mobile are making moves in the U.S. smart grid market. That's likely to see competing telecoms lowering the prices they're asking utilities to pay to rent their networks for linking smart meters and other smart grid devices (see stories here, here, here, here and here).

The rollout of so-called fourth-generation (4G) networks in Europe and North America could give telecommunications companies more to offer utilities. In the United States, Sprint and Clearwire are hoping to host smart grid services on the WiMax networks they're building around the country (see Sprint Stakes Smart Grid Claim and Green Light post).

As for Alcatel's 4G plans, it has been gathering partners including Hewlett Packard, Nokia, Samsung, and the North American marketing arm of Kyocera and Sanyo in its NG Connect program, which is aimed at providing services for the Long Term Evolution (LTE) network being deployed in Europe.

Another NG Connect partner is Intamac Systems, a United Kingdom-based company developing in-home energy control systems that are being deployed through telecom and utility partnerships.

Verizon and BT (formerly British Telecom) are among the telecommunications companies working on linking home energy management devices through home hubs, providing another route beyond smart meters to link utilities to customers (see The Telco Home Energy Invasion).

Europe isn't the only market Alcatel is aiming at. It's involved in a PPL Electric Utilities proposal that's seeking $19 million in Department of Energy stimulus funds to build a distribution automation system in Harrisburg, Penn. (see Smart Grid Stimulus Applications Accelerate as Deadline Approaches).

Of course, Alcatel will likely see plenty of competition from Cisco on the smart grid front. The networking giant is making a big push into helping utilities build the networks they'll need to support a wide range of smart grid projects (see IBM, Cisco Look to Tie Up Smart Grid Partners).

While most of Cisco's utility partners are in the United States, it is working with Germany utility Yellostrom and is likely to expand its partner list in the coming months (see Cisco Gets Into German Homes With Yellostrom).

Interact with smart grid industry visionaries from North American utilities, innovative hardware and software vendors and leading industry consortiums at The Networked Grid on November 4 in San Francisco.