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The Internet Solution: AMR Reborn

Fortnightly Magazine - October 1 1999

for simplified integration with multiple service providers and head-end applications.

Now distributed objects have been embedded into low-cost networked devices, enabling a flatter, simpler system architecture that delivers flexibility and scalability without requiring any central server bottlenecks. Distributed object technologies such as common object request broker architecture, or CORBA, provide the perfect link between control devices and enterprise software, since they allow the control data to be delivered in a way that easily integrates with those service applications.

Technical Standards

The power of open standards cannot be overestimated. For the home/utility environment, IP and the other standards that comprise the Internet are having a profound impact on system architectures and product designs. Over the last few years we have moved to a situation where IP technology for implementation of wide- and local-area networks (WAN or LAN) is fully accepted as the international standard for data networking. Gone are the days of proprietary architectures and vertically oriented networks. It is now clear that an IP-based architecture is the way to provide a future-proof system with flexibility to accommodate multiple services to the home.

The standardization of control networks also has undergone rapid change in the last few years. While there is not a single ubiquitous standard across all industries, three de facto standards have emerged for home networking: (1) EIA-709 (LonWorks(r)), (2) CEBus (EIA/ANSI-600) and (3) X-10.

LonWorks, now adopted as EIA-709, offers a strong open international standard for the home networking infrastructure, supporting both powerline media for existing homes and twisted-pair (telephone wiring) for new homes. Many energy and security systems already are based upon LonWorks, the de facto standard for commercial building automation. Meanwhile, an increasing demand for Internet access from the home is driving IP connectivity independently, whether by cable modem, ISDN or DSL.

But all three standards support powerline carrier (PLC) communications, key in providing services to existing homes, with EIA-709 also supporting additional media including unshielded twisted-pair. All three of these standards have been adopted widely by vendors and effectively set the stage for explosive growth in home products ready for networked access. EIA-709, in particular, has found wide acceptance world-wide in both commercial and home environmental control, security and lighting applications.

From Device to Network

Early approaches to AMR took a device-connectivity approach. is to say, they linked a single device, the meter, into a wide-area network accessible by head-end applications.

By contrast, consider a network infrastructure approach. An in-home network is linked in a general way to the wide-area network, and finally to multiple head-end applications. Access is provided to any device on the in-home network from any head-end application. In-home devices can include the meter, load-control devices, home security devices, appliances, lighting devices and home automation systems.

This network approach creates an inherently expandable architecture that supports multiple applications and services over the same network infrastructure. It also supports multiple models of system installation. Some components, such as the meter, may be installed by the service provider as part of the infrastructure deployment. Other parts, such as home automation devices, may be purchased and installed