Smart phones. Smart grids. Smart highways. Smart cards. Now that we know everything we used in the past was “dumb,” what’s the IQ of the most important thing in broadband – the network?

The market already is full of "smart" tech-y products: smart card testers; smart optical loss test sets, smart optical broadband light sources, and smart attenuators; smart battery data accuracy tests; smart home cables; and even smart tweezers. What’s next?

City and state governments have been getting “smart,” rolling out high-speed Municipal Service Networks (MSNs) since the late 1990s with the aim of increasing efficiency and productivity. These networks – sometimes optical networks of all flavors and sometimes Wi-Fi deployments (with hundreds of nodes) – provide video, voice and data connections between city agencies (some of which have deployed such revenue enhancers as dynamic parking meters, whose prices change based on time of day or demand), utilities (some rolling out smart meter readers); first responders; and schools, libraries, colleges and hospitals. These MSNs can save taxpayer dollars while improving public-service levels.

There are a number of other benefits attributed to MSNs if they are done really well: shorter payback periods, ongoing new revenue streams (excess capacity can be used to offer mobile, high-speed Internet access to businesses, residents and travelers), and reduced service costs to business and residential users compared with programs from existing providers. If you want to read a true success story that made not only national but global news, check out the Tennessee utility that now offers the fastest broadband Internet connections ever (page 24).

The next big “smart” project this country will see is the long-overdue rejuvenation of our crumbling electrical grid, which also powers all kinds of communications. Three years ago, Congress directed the U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to coordinate the development of communication protocols and other standards to help ensure an interoperable smart grid. The feds and their agencies are coming up with new standards and are awarding stimulus cash to manufacturers for the design and proliferation of advanced technology.

Last month, NIST came up with five “foundational” sets of standards for smart-grid interoperability and cyber security that now are ready for consideration by federal and state energy regulators. According to NIST’s George Arnold, the standards “are essential to uniform and interoperable communication systems throughout the grid and will accommodate the evolution of the grid and the integration of new technologies."

With all these “smart” initiatives in place for networks, equipment and services, the chances of the United States having to say “missed it by that much” have been lessened significantly.

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