AT&T, SmartSynch Plug Into Smart Grid

AT&T, in a partnership with telecom provider SmartSynch, will offer a service to help electric utility companies move toward providing this technology to the residential sector. The announcement recalls Google's PowerMeter program that lets consumers view energy consumption (courtesy of smart meters) in near realtime through iGoogle.

SmartSynch, Jackson, Miss., will provide utility companies with wireless technology they can use to monitor meters while AT&T provides the wireless network for the utilities to communicate directly with their meters. Utilities will be able to check the meters from a computer rather than sending a worker to the site.

The smart grid is an electrical grid that delivers energy while using digital technology such as smart meters to cut costs, conserve power and increase reliability. Smart grids combine smart meters, wireless technology, sensors and software. The U.S. government recently appropriated $11 billion toward electrical grid upgrades in last month's economic stimulus bill.

The partnership with AT&T allows the company to market its product on a wider scale.

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In the past, utility companies have been concerned about building, maintaining, expanding and upgrading a communications network for their meters. The AT&T/SmartSynch solution offers a point-to-point configuration model whereby each meter communicates directly with the utility over the AT&T wireless network.

Although proponents of smart grid technology say that customers and utilities can closely monitor energy use and cut back when the availability of electricity is stretched to its limit, critics are concerned that utilities can throttle back power at their sole discretion. That has been an issue with Internet service providers, such as Comcast.