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According to a new report from Navigant Research, the number of communications node shipments associated with the smart grid will rise to 133.3 million worldwide by 2018, up from 91.8 million in 2013. The volume of shipments will decline slightly in 2019-2020, the study notes.

Navigant says spending on communications for smart grid deployments is accelerating as utilities demand more robust networks that can be leveraged for a growing range of applications. The research firm reports that vendors and service providers have responded by improving the suitability of their communications platforms for a variety of applications - not only smart meters, but also enhanced distribution automation applications.

"Managing the build-out, security and optimization of the communications network for the smart grid represents one of the great challenges and opportunities in the power sector today," says Richelle Elberg, senior research analyst with Navigant. "The industry has made significant strides in just a few years; accordingly, many of the expectations and assumptions from as little as two or three years ago have shifted dramatically."

Previously, many smart grid communications devices were part of specialized, proprietary systems, Navigant adds. Over the past 18 months, however, vendors have recognized the value in supporting standards-based technologies. The report says this has resulted in unprecedented activity and cooperation among many stakeholders.

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