Week in research: Smart meters see first market peak; Policy management vendor consolidation coming

Smart meters hit first market peak: 2011 was a big year for smart meter deployments, with global full-year shipments reaching nearly 73 million endpoints. However compelling that trend may be, a Pike Research tracker report said that overall shipments in the last three months of the year declined almost 8 percent from Q3 2011. During Q4 2011, global smart meter shipments rose to 17.8 million, with China accounting 12.3 million of this figure. "For the full year, shipments of smart meters were strong, and that's the good news for the industry," said senior analyst Neil Strother. "However, there is also a cloud in this picture as the volume of new deployment announcements was relatively weak, indicating that perhaps for the first time we've arrived at a market peak." Part of the reason for the Q4 slowdown was that many utilities were conducting smaller scale deployments. Projects undertaken by Lafayette Utilities System and Wake Electric, for example, served only 66,000 and 35,000 of their customers. Release

Policy management vendors consolidate: The goal of service providers to increase revenue from new services and improve the subscriber experience is driving an increased used of policy control solutions by both wireline and wireless service providers. According to Infonetics' Policy Management Software report, global sales of policy management software rose to $589 million in 2011, up 41 percent from 2010. By 2016, the research firm forecasts that the global policy management market will surpass the $1.9 billion mark. From a vendor perspective, Openet was the dominant vendor followed by Huawei, Tekelec and Amdocs (formerly Bridgewater Systems). Infonetics believes that vendor market share shifts in 2012 will be impacted by mergers and acquisitions of policy management vendors, particularly Amdocs' 2011 acquisition of Bridgewater. "As policy management's applications broaden, we'll see continued strong growth in the market over the next several years, along with additional vendor consolidation as the market matures," said Shira Levine, directing analyst for next gen OSS and policy at Infonetics Research. Release

Policy Management software share leaders

Rural puts more fiber in broadband diet: Efforts by local community-based service providers are connecting more rural communities by deploying fiber networks and offering new options and speeds. In its Broadband/Internet Availability Survey, the National Telecommunications Cooperative Association (NTCA) found that 58 percent of respondents with a fiber deployment strategy will offer hybrid copper/fiber-based Fiber to the Node (FTTN) services to over 75 percent of their customers in the next two years. Fiber to the Home (FTTH) deployment plans are also on the rise with 66 percent of respondents saying they plan to offer fiber-based broadband to at least half of their customers in the same period. Broadband speeds continue to rise, with 10 percent of the survey participants saying their customers can get up to 6 Mbps speeds. Meanwhile, 46 percent can receive service of between 6 and 10 Mbps, and 32 percent can receive service of greater than 10 Mbps. "Efforts by rural carriers to increase fiber availability in their communities are paying off with significantly faster broadband speeds that are comparable to those available in more populated parts of the country," said NTCA Economist Rick Schadelbauer. "These gains are the direct result of successful cost recovery mechanisms that promote universal service." Release

NTCA rural broadband availability