Instead of running disparate and discrete networks for each type of equipment across their grids, utilities are increasingly turning to private field area networks (FANs) to deliver advanced applications across common platforms. The growth of these networks is best reflected in the growth of communication nodes being deployed in a utility’s field of operations, which includes nodes for advanced metering infrastructure, nodes used to manage the distribution network, and nodes to connect substations. According to a recent report from Pike Research, a part of Navigant’s Energy Practice, deployments of these networks – specifically in the form of wireless communications nodes using radio frequency (RF) mesh, Wi-Fi, WiMAX, or Long Term Evolution technologies – will expand steadily over the next several years after a two-year period of contraction in 2012 and 2013. Revenue from these wireless communications nodes will surpass $428 million worldwide by 2020, the study concludes.

“Utilities have realized the value in creating interconnected communications networks that enable them to better manage the distribution grid,” says senior research analyst Bob Lockhart. “In addition to the operational efficiencies of creating a scalable, common management platform, private wireless FANs provide a system-wide view of the grid on a single platform.”

Vendors have realized that across the distribution network, a variety of wireless transport technologies are more likely to be put in place, rather than a single, overarching technology, according to the report. This is a function of both financial pressures and operational efficiency. As a result, most utilities and vendors envision the current and future FAN as an amalgamation of a variety of transport protocols and networks—some owned by the utility and some leased from telecommunications providers.