Arcadian Networks has licensed 700-megahertz broadband spectrum across a 30-state stretch of the American heartland, and it wants utilities to know it's available for their use.

Sure, licensing all that spectrum is expensive. But with about $90 million raised since 2005 from investors including big backer Goldman Sachs, as well as Gilo Ventures and Clal Industries, the Valhalla, N.Y.-based company has some money to spend.

So far, Arcadian's major deployment is in Minnesota, where it has linked generation and transmission utility Great River Energy and about 16 smaller electricity co-ops.

In that instance, the utilities are leasing Arcadian's internet protocol (IP)-based network to link about 600 substations and 600,000 electrical meters, said Jake Rasweiler, vice president of engineering and network operations.

With the ability to connect disparate smart grid systems including smart meters, distribution automation equipment, transmission line monitors, security cameras and the like, "This is a living, breathing smart grid that proves interoperability," Rasweiler said this week at the GridWeek conference in Washington D.C.

Arcadian isn't disclosing the names of the other utilities it may be working with, citing non-disclosure agreements. But it is involved in five applications for Department of Energy smart grid stimulus grants totaling about $150 million.

Most haven't been disclosed, but one includes the $30 million proposal from San Diego Gas & Electric to build out a utility-wide communications network that could also involve WiMax networks (see Green Light post).

Taking a look at Arcadian's licensed spectrum territory, which roughly covers the middle of the country but excludes much of the west and east coasts, as well as the Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, Kentucky and West Virginia, might provide some clues as to where it is joining in utility stimulus applications.

Arcadian has an interesting smart grid communications offering, lying somewhere in between telecoms like AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, which rent their networks to utilities, and networking technology providers like Silver Spring Networks, Trilliant and smart meter makers that sell gear and radios for utilities to operate, said Marcus Torchia, analyst with IDC company Energy Insights.

Arcadian, for its part, is willing to do both, Rasweiler said. Its technology does offer some advantages over unlicensed wireless mesh networks from potential competitors like Silver Spring, such as Arcadian's licensed spectrum, its ranges of 40 miles or so per tower, and its average speeds of 1 megabyte, Rasweiler said.

With the exception of Sensus, which uses licensed spectrum, the majority of smart meters in North America use unlicensed spectrum, typically in the 900-megahertz range. That's cheaper but can lead to more challenges with interference and reliability, backers of licensed spectrum say.

The issue of licensed-versus-unlicensed spectrum for smart grid has started to receive more attention since utility AEP and others have suggested that the Federal Communication Commission consider setting aside spectrum for utilities' future needs – a suggestion that, unsurprisingly, is being opposed by companies like SmartSynch that use public cellular networks to carry smart meter data (see Smart Grid News for an overview).

One potential challenge for Arcadian may be beating the prices that potential competitors can offer. Rasweiler didn't share figures on how much it might cost a utility to deploy and own its own Arcadian-based network, but said the costs for using a network could be compared to those now being offered by telecoms like AT&T and Verizon.

Industry watchers have noted that those telecoms have traditionally priced their services too high for most utilities, but have in the past year brought them down to attract more smart grid business.

One notable example is AT&T, which in March said it would partner with smart meter networking startup SmartSynch to expand to residential metering the connectivity the two had previously provided for commercial and industrial smart meters (see Your Electrical Meter Becomes a Cellphone).

But comparing Arcadian's offering on a per-meter basis isn't necessarily the most accurate measurement, Rasweiler noted, since it can also be used to support a host of previously described smart grid systems, as well as more prosaic functions like replacing the radios or cellular networks used to keep work crews in contact with main offices.

Torchia noted that Arcadian's IP-based architecture makes them interoperable with a wide range of technologies. Interoperability is something the federal government is going to demand out of smart grid deployments (see Smart Grid Standards Roadmap Unveiled).

On the matter of interoperability, Torchia added that there's something else to pay attention to with Arcadian – "I think they've gotten in bed with Cisco."

Arcadian's Minnesota network is built on Cisco Systems equipment, Rasweiler said, and it's one of Cisco's many "Smart Grid Ecosystem" partners (see IBM, Cisco Look to Tie Up Smart Grid Partners).

And Cisco has said it will be looking for IP-compatible partners for its big push into networking utility transmission and distribution grids (see Cisco Wants to be Everywhere in Smart Grid).

Of course, Cisco has many partners, and beyond the early-stage projects it's gotten into with utilities (such as a one-million smart meter deployment with Florida Power and Light involving Silver Spring and General Electric), it hasn't made clear just which companies it will be deploying with.

Marie Hatter, Cisco's vice president of marketing and smart grid, did say during an interview at the GridWeek conference that Cisco finds Arcadian's offering interesting, but didn't go farther than that.  

Photo via KatRya / Creative Commons

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.