AT&T Allows Utilities to Prepay 10 Years Ahead


Smart grids are changing the way we think about energy. Instead of being a uniform substance, like water, smart grids allow for energy prices to move up and down as demand ebbs and flows. Smart grids record all the data and allow both consumers and utilities to better control how much they consume.

For some smart grids—but not all—cellular connectivity is a big piece of the puzzle. In particular, smart grids often use smart meters to communicate household energy information. But a meter is different from a mobile phone, so how are cellular companies responding to having such devices on their networks?

For AT&T,, the answer is to offer a specific plan. AT&T is providing a suite of smart grid products from SmartSynch,, to utilities along with its wireless data services. Also, AT&T will put all the charges on one bill. But in perhaps the most interesting part of the news, AT&T is allowing utility companies that buy their smart meters directly from AT&T to prepay up to 10 years of M2M (machine-to-machine) data usage for those meters.

This move could have implications for how AT&T categorizes smart meters. AT&T has said in the past that it categorizes devices based on the relationship it has with the subscriber. If a consumer has a direct billing relationship with AT&T, the device is then no longer considered a connected device but falls into either the prepaid or postpaid category. In the case of these smart meters, AT&T’s customer is the utility, who has a direct billing relationship with AT&T. However, in this scenario AT&T still doesn’t have a direct relationship with the consumer. So while it seems the meters could be counted as prepaid devices, it is unclear at this point as to how exactly AT&T would categorize these devices moving forward. To learn more about the way in which carriers classify connected devices, check out Connected World magazine’s report “The Coming Age of M2M and Connected Devices.”

While it is true AT&T doesn’t have a direct relationship with the consumer in this scenario, might that one day change? Could there perhaps come a day when the consumer would pay AT&T for energy usage, and AT&T would then pay the utility? While this might seem difficult to imagine, in the future anything could be possible.

AT&T and SmartSynch announced their collaboration in March 2009, and SmartSynch has now licensed AT&T to sell its meters and software directly to utilities. It’s an interesting position for AT&T, which now finds itself a meter provider, as well as a cellular data provider. No doubt that was the company’s intent, and the market will watch attentively to see if other network carriers follow in its footsteps.

Connected World Issue
June/July 2014
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