The electric utility industry needs an open standards based IoT Service Layer designed for interoperability to enable the self-adaptive electric grid required to integrate electric vehicles at the lowest cost


 In this interview, oneM2M hears from Ray Bell, CEO of Aetheros which has operations in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and the USA. Headquartered in Sausalito, California, Aetheros spans the communications, electric utility, and smart metering industries. It offers an open-standard, secure, Linux based, distributed operating system for machines that addresses the coming generation of requirements arising from distributed renewable generation, battery systems, and electric vehicles. 

 Q: Would you begin with an overview of your background and Aetheros?

RB: I have been involved in new technologies throughout my career, beginning with Oracle in the early 90s and then at Cisco, where I was the CTO for its first Internet business unit. I became involved in the utility sector when I co-founded Silver Spring Networks in 2003. Silver Spring was all about using IP to build advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) networks. I am currently the Founder and CEO of Aetheros which is my fifth new business project. I have been involved with standards for my entire career, mostly related to Internet protocols and wireless telecommunications.

I founded Aetheros late in 2019, based on product technologies that we acquired from Grid Net. We created Aetheros to build a distributed network operating system for machines, which is Aether OS or AOS. However, in order to do so we also needed to create the embedded edge machines that we needed to work with. Given our background in the utility industry, we focused our development efforts on IntelliHub in Australia to build AOS and our Edge Hardware products for electric smart meters.

Our products are being used today in Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and North America on the AT&T, Spark, Telstra, and Verizon 4G/5G networks.

Q: Aetheros recently announced its AOS offering targeting the US utilities sector. What accounts for the timing of this launch?

RB: Market timing is a key factor in bringing our networking products to market.  Smart electric meter deployments started in the USA around 2005 and continued till about 2019. During that time, there were roughly 110 million meter installations of which roughly 85% were for residential use, and about 15% for commercial and industrial sites. The key driver for the initial deployment of smart meters in the USA was to use price to curb customer demand, thereby offsetting the need to build additional nuclear and fossil fuel generating capacity. The first wave of installations focused on replacing mechanical meters with digital meters that had a clock. You can think of it as replacing spinning dials with electronic counters.

We are now approaching a period when the first wave of smart meters needs to be replaced because they are aging out.  Today, there are two other key drivers, electric vehicles (EVs) and renewable energy sources, which must be integrated into the electricity distribution network.  You have to remember that an EV can consume as much electricity as a household, and in some cases more, which makes it a significant endpoint to add to the electricity grid. In the US, we see a guaranteed market of well over 200 million smart meters being deployed between 2023 and 2038. That is why we are promoting AOS and our utility industry track record now.

Q: Aetheros has been active in markets abroad. What were the market timing factors there?

RB: A lot goes back to the 2009-10 period when Grid Net was involved in some large deployments in Australia, in the State of Victoria to be precise. Australia is a leader in the deregulated electricity market, and in 2017 the Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO) announced a package of standards to enhance competition in the retail energy market and help consumers better manage their electricity usage. IntelliHub – one of our key customers – was formed in 2018 around these standards to deliver innovative metering and data solutions to energy retailers that enable the retailers to maximise new digital and energy services. We started deploying AOS, PolicyNet (our smart meter management application that runs on AOS), and our Edge Hardware products with IntelliHub in early 2020. Today we have shipped over one million units in Australia and New Zealand.

In the case of Mexico, the government has created a set of standards that define the requirements that smart meters and communications cards must meet in order to be purchased by the Comisión Federal de Electricidad (CFE, the state-owned electric utility). Within their rules, there are requirements for interoperability. That is something we can handle because we focus on open standard solutions. We are a partner with AT&T Mexico to deliver our smart meter communications cards combined with their LTE CatM network to CFE. We started shipping in Mexico towards the end of 2022, and are now gearing up for the US market.

Q: What lessons can you take forward as you approach the US market?

RB: The big picture is about changes in the utilities sector. Historically, the focus was on the use of pricing to reduce peak demand. While that is still the case, the big elephant in the room concerns EVs. When it comes to energy distribution and consumption, the utility sector will have to deal with issues such as the orchestration of EVs, solar installations, virtual power plants, and the quality of supply. It is clear that we need to be thinking in terms of distributed micro generation and storage systems compared to our historical structure which is based on centralized generation. In Germany, for example, home-based EVs need to use a certified electric meter which can be relied on for expense receipts. Think of that end point as a sub-meter in the home. All together, we are talking about big infrastructure and highly distributed systems. We simply do not have the investment capacity to replace the historical wiring of the electricity distribution grid.

The orchestration of all of these distributed energy resources requires edge computing, and the management of millions of edge apps at utility scale requires an open-standard Common Service Layer.  oneM2M is the only open Common Service Layer that meets the requirements of this next wave of grid modernization, and AOS is the only proven oneM2M compliant IoT service layer in production in the utility market today. To foster the edge app ecosystem for grid modernization, our AOS SDK and open-source code sample apps, which are freely available on GitHub, enables the IoT app developer to rapidly develop and deploy embedded Edge apps in a matter of days.

If decision makers want to drive industry growth, they have to be careful about relying on proprietary technologies. That approach will simply put a handbrake on the economy. What we need is the use of open standards which are designed for interoperability. Open-standards not only avoid vendor lock-in, but they promote a global ecosystem of best-of-breed solutions which fosters innovation and enables rapid development and deployment of well-vetted and proven solutions. Open standards are also important for the massive scale of the smart grid. As they are designed for interoperability, it is easier to integrate EVs, renewable energy sources, and battery storage systems, while ensuring the safety, quality, and reliability for our critical electricity infrastructure.

In technology terms, we think about an open-standard Common Service Layer. This was our approach before we came across oneM2M. The Common Service Layer functions like an open, distributed operating system geared to machines and things. That is quite different from an operating system that is designed for smartphones and tablets.

Q: There are similarities with oneM2M’s goals so how did Aetheros became involved with oneM2M?

RB: Around 2012, we were working through Grid Net on meters and automotive applications. One of our partners was KDDI (Japan). They were active in oneM2M standardization and introduced us to the standard. We looked at what we called common services in our platform, such as digital identity management, dynamic group policy, device, application, and network management, and a durable and reliable publish/subscribe messaging platform. When we compared our services with oneM2M’s twelve common service functions, we saw an immediate match. The only difference was that we used a proprietary design. That is when we decided to rewrite our common service capabilities using the oneM2M specifications for an IoT Service Layer. That is how we embraced the standard.

Today, AOS is the only proven oneM2M compliant IoT service layer in production in the utility market.  Our edge device hardware and IoT service layer firmware provide a robust, secure edge computing platform, with the convenience and scalability of centralized management via our IoT service layer components in the cloud.

Q: How are oneM2M standards helping your business?

RB: I have already spoken about the importance of standardization and interoperability. These are important for scale and to meet the requirements we see from government or regulatory agencies.

From a sector standpoint, the utilities sector needs solutions that deliver distributed intelligence at the edge and for systems that can interact with one another. Once you care about the quality of electricity supply, for example, you have to track consumption and micro generation in the home. That is also the case at various interconnection points and where solar and wind farms plug into the transmission and distribution networks. The utility grid also has distributed charging points for EVs. At some point, all of these machines and devices will have to interconnect. You cannot do that without a standards-based IoT service layer.

With distributed generation and storage, the electricity distribution network also has to become self-adaptive which can only happen with open standards. That is why we position our Linux-based AOS as an open distributed operating system for machines and things. We are approaching the smart grid market in the way that Google did with its Linux-based, Android OS for phones and tablets.

We are also seeing a need for more utility-like service layer functions of the kind that oneM2M standardizes. Let me explain in terms of early generation IoT platforms. Many of these focus on orchestrating network elements and supporting the billing and security functions linked to communications management. With machines and connected things, we need services such as the ability to activate and deactivate subscriptions, and to migrate devices across operator and/or private networks over-the-air. We also need the ability to manage groups of devices or to apply access control functions selectively. These are examples of why there is a need for a common service layer. In the US, for example, Verizon has leveraged AOS and our PolicyNet application (a oneM2M AE) for its smart metering as a service solution (Verizon GridWide).

I also want to make a point about oneM2M’s Resource Tree capability. Let’s take a scenario where you have an Edge aggregation point connecting to an application (a oneM2M AE) via WiFi or WiSUN. That aggregation point might be connected to other gateways over Ethernet or an RS485 interface to manage ‘child’ devices. That entire hierarchy can be modeled in the Resource Tree so that the user has visibility of the overall network topology and systems. We have built massive resource trees for some of our deployments, so we have an in-depth knowledge of designing and operating oneM2M service-layer systems at scale. Today, AOS CSE is deployed at scale meeting our customer’s reporting metrics of over 99% and delivering over 3 billion meter reads daily.

Q: I hope we can discuss implementation aspects in a future interview. For now, what would be your closing advice?

RB: Firstly, we see utilities requiring more intelligence at the Edge in a distributed systems context. They will need more open standards-based software at the Edge so that EV chargers, solar energy supplies, battery storage systems, and smart appliances can interact with one or more smart-meter service points. The service point is the certified ‘cash register’ that knows about the customer’s demand, about distribution network supply conditions and capabilities. It also has the ability to instruct machines and things locally on how to adapt based on this information.

We expect to see many more machines and things connecting to the utility grid. Things like EVs were not considered when existing electricity grids were built. As a result, we will see new requirements and new opportunities as the automotive, transportation, and utility industries cooperate.

For this cooperation to happen and to happen with minimal friction, we need a common service layer in the technology stack, and we also need open standards. That is the key message we want decision makers and regulators in the government and large utility operators to hear.