Silver Spring Networks takes a different approach, offering utilities several information services in the cloud. The cloud is where the vendor has installed a communications network, running multiple applications — and runs it on behalf of its customers. “We capture a lot of data,” says Michelle Rae McLean, the company's director of product marketing. As McLean explains it, Silver Spring's customers can subscribe to various channels of its SilverLink service, which she likens to cable TV, to get network performance reports and alerts that affect any of the smart grid applications running on the network, including AMI, DA and DSM or load management.”

Utilities needing all-weather communications may also look above the cloud for help. Inmarsat, a global satellite communications provider, has developed a 15-sq-inch satellite dish that can be used on top of utility poles for AMI and on top of utility trucks to keep communications flowing, no matter the weather and irrespective of the traffic on cellular systems.

“These are very small and easy to install,” said Chuck Moseley, Inmarsat's director of M2M energy sales. Further, he said, people can be trained to operate them in about an hour, and with the ability to transfer data at 492 kb/sec and to provide WiFi from each truck, “satellite is entering the conversation.”