I just finished writing how it will take time before we see any specifics on the vague “platform” announced by Cisco and Itron. I guess time is up. Cisco announced the intention to acquire Arch Rock Corporation, the long time IP-based wireless sensor network technology company. So much for needing patience….
I should have seen it coming. We sat down with Arch Rock back in May, where they previewed an impressive, very well thought out, end-to-end, IP-based AMI software platform, formally announced in June. This leverages all the important existing and emerging standards. And with Arch Rock folks active in most of the relevant committees, their pre-standard implementations should be well informed.
The big problem I saw in the Arch Rock effort was a business issue: they aimed to license the platform to existing smart grid vendors, most of which already had products in the market and aggressive IP-based R&D underway. I thought it highly unlikely Arch Rock could get major players to dump their own efforts and outsource this key architectural component, and thereby spur the market for a generic IP-based ecosystem for sub-1 GHz wireless communications. I still think I was right – Arch Rock couldn’t – but Cisco can, as evidenced by the big Cisco/Itron strategic alliance.
The Arch Rock platform will undoubtedly undergo some evolution in the collaboration with Itron, leveraging Itron’s experience in successfully deploying large-scale AMI mesh networks. The value of this experience should not be underestimated. In a similar arena, some in the IP community mocked the ZigBee wireless mesh networking stack as a bloated mess, until these once warring groups started collaborating (thank you, NIST!). The word on the street is they’re struggling to keep the new IP-based ZigBee stack within the same code footprint and functional capabilities as the existing ZigBee PRO stack, but the ultimate collaboration should result in a stronger standard and products.
So the path forward on the Cisco/Itron platform appears significantly clearer. Starting with Arch Rock’s technology, Cisco adds their special sauce, and Itron integrates it all into the OpenWay platform, refining it along the way. None of this is a slam dunk, as Itron only knows too well and Cisco/Arch Rock may need to learn. What will happen to Arch Rock’s hardware products is unclear, but I would expect them to fade away. The competitive threats to other AMI vendors such as Silver Spring Networks and Trilliant are now clearer (and stronger), though they at least now have a reasonably detailed product spec to push against instead of a vague platform ghost.
All in all, if a standard AMI communications platform is the goal, then I cannot imagine a better combination than Cisco’s architectural breadth, Itron’s experience (and savvy), and Arch Rock’s technology. I may not be ready to cry “bingo” yet, but I think we at least have “b-i-n” in place. Now let’s see where the “g-o” will come from….