The systems used to connect the various devices within a utility’s “field” of operations, which can include smart meters, concentrators, distribution assets, control and protection equipment, and substation equipment, are known as field area networks (FANs). Utilities are increasingly creating common platforms to connect all these devices together to enable simpler, more unified visibility, management, and control. According to a new 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 LTE technology – will contract this year and next and then expand steadily over the next several years. By 2020, the report concludes, annual worldwide shipments of these communications nodes will reach 14.3 million.

“The development of field area networks is being driven largely by a shift in the way smart grid-based products and services are being positioned and marketed,” says chief research director Bob Gohn. “Vendors are making a concerted effort to reposition themselves as platform vendors and integrators, rather than as simply suppliers of a specific piece of equipment, such as smart meters or radios. At the same time, utilities have recognized the value of creating interconnected communications networks that will allow them to better manage the distribution grid.”

The market for private utility FANs will be led by North America, the study finds, which will see 82 percent of world shipments in 2012. That share will decline steadily over the 2012-2020 forecast period, but North America will still account for 44 percent of world shipments by 2020. The fastest growth in the decade will come in Latin America, where shipments will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 48 percent.