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Stimulus supports wireless meter chip sales

$4.5 billion federal funding will encourage "smart grid" electrical system deployment, says ABI Research, and will filter through to RF component suppliers like Skyworks Solutions.

Wireless meter-reading looks set to provide one of the most secure growth rates in the GaAs chip-making industry, thanks to a $4.5 billion chunk of the US stimulus package.

Electricity meters that can be remotely read are a key element of “smart grid” technology that will benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

Market analyst firm ABI Research says that the ARRA, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 17, will now shore up deployments of these meters.

“Under ARRA there is approximately $4.5 billion in matching grants for smart grid deployments,” said Sam Lucero, senior analyst at ABI.

“The new federal funding is not an order-of-magnitude game changer, but it will certainly help to encourage and accelerate new smart grid plans, and reinforce those already in place.”

Within the smart grid, smart meters will help power companies match their electricity generation to consumers needs and also respond quicker to outages, Lucero comments.

“There is a huge focus on smart meters in the market; it s one of the central themes in the utility industry at present,” he said.

Lucero points out that although there are three main technologies for smart meters, North America most commonly uses short-range wireless in conjunction with cellular backhaul.

Exploiting its GaAs know-how, Skyworks Solutions is the highest-profile supplier of RF chips into smart metering. The company told compoundsemiconductor.net that it sees this sector as a “rising star”.

“Any money spent to serve and promote smart meter deployments will assist in a faster rollout,” said Wesley Boyd, Skyworks director of marketing and applications engineering. “With a faster and larger introduction of smart grid services, Skyworks is well poised to benefit.”

“Today less than 8 percent of the world s meters have been upgraded to support smart meter technology, so this market still has a lot of growth potential,” he said.

Boyd warns, however, that there are currently no wireless interface standards defined for metering applications, which could slow adoption.

Although meters are expected to operate for 15-20 years, Lucero says that a cycle of replacement will continue to drive demand and ensure revenues for suppliers into the sector.

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