Verizon is already getting smart meters and other smart grid devices to talk to one another. A new joint venture between Verizon Wireless and leading wireless chip maker Qualcomm, targeting opportunities in the broader "machine-to-machine" market, could expand that.

Executives with both companies provided few details on the focus of the new joint venture in a Tuesday morning press conference at Qualcomm's San Diego headquarters. Nor did they discuss the financial backing the venture would get from both companies – or even the name it would go under.

"What we're doing now is looking across every vertical," said Tony Lewis, Verizon Wireless' vice president of open development.

But the two did list utilities as one of the industries the new joint venture would target, along with healthcare, manufacturing, distribution and consumer products. They also made a point of highlighting smart grid technology, "which enables utilities to wirelessly connect to their grid assets, such as circuit breakers, transformers and other sub-station equipment," in their press release.

Also noteworthy is the presence of executives with smart meter maker Elster, Southern California utility holding company Sempra Energy and Swiss power distribution and transmission equipment maker and power automation services provider ABB at Qualcomm's Tuesday Smart Services Leadership Summit event.

Let the speculation begin. Verizon, for one, has been making moves into the smart grid space, with deals such as one announced in April with smart meter maker Itron to link Itron's smart meter networks to utility control centers via Verizon's wireless networks. That's similar to work the wireless provider is doing with utility Duke Energy, and potentially other utilities (see Green Light post).


Cellular networks are already one key option for utilities looking to link distribution and transmission grid sensors and controls (see AT&T Links Cooper Power Systems' Smart Grid Devices).

Using cellular networks to link smart meters and other devices at customers' premises is a popular option in Europe, but less so in North America, where utility-owned wireless mesh networks have taken the lead (see RF Mesh, ZigBee Top North American Utilities' Wish Lists).

Still, some analysts see cellular networks as a natural medium for carrying data from devices utilities are installing at customers' premises and amidst their electricity grids, since it avoids the cost utilities face in installing and maintaining their own communication gear.

In search of such opportunities, AT&T is working with smart meter communications provider SmartSynch to connect residential smart meters, something the two already do with SmartSynch's more prevalent services for commercial and industrial smart meters (see Your Electrical Meter Becomes a Cell Phone and

KORE Telematics uses AT&T's wireless network to connect smart meters being installed by utility Arizona Public Service (see Green Light post). Smart meter maker Echelon has a similar deal with T-Mobile USA (see Echelon, T-Mobile Team on Smart Meter Contracts).

Qualcomm, for its part, hasn't made any overt moves into the smart grid space as of yet.

Steve Pazol, the vice president of global smart services at Qualcomm  who will lead the new joint venture, noted that linking consumer electronics via cellular networks will be a focus of the new effort.

"Qualcomm has products that are really optimized for those connected consumer devices," he said.

Theoretically, that could include various home energy monitoring and management devices Verizon may be looking at bringing to homes in the coming months. The idea is to link appliances, heating and air conditioning systems and other home energy-using devices to networks that could allow homeowners or utilities to power them down to mitigate peak electricity demand loads or save energy (see The Smart Home, Part I).

That includes the potential for Verizon to add energy management services through its FiOS broadband home router (see Verizon to Add Energy Management to FiOS).  AT&T is rumored to be looking at a similar strategy (see Telecoms Eyeing Home Energy Management?).

While Verizon hasn't said when it might start supporting energy management, companies like OpenPeak, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based maker of touch screen and voice-over internet protocol (VOIP) devices that is adding energy management services to the applications it hosts on its devices, have said telecoms will be rolling out those systems this year (see The Telco Home Energy Invasion).

But just how much the new Qualcomm-Verizon joint venture will focus on smart grid and home energy management, versus the plethora of other opportunities in linking devices to one another – a market representing a potential 85 million devices by 2012, Pazol noted in a press release – remains to be seen.

The two companies did say the new joint venture would use cloud computing solutions to automate device provisioning, and to track, monitor and manage assets, as well as support for other device manufacturers and data integration and back office support.