Thursday, July 8, 2010

Applying the network roaming model to electricity

Before the invention of GSM phones it was not possible for people to use their mobile phones outside the area covered by the network operator from whom they had purchased their phone.  People who travelled very frequently to another country might have considered purchasing another phone and getting an additional service contract in the second country, but for the vast majority of users did not consider this worth the cost and hassle. Consumers were thrilled when GSM operators introduced roaming services, now they could have a single account with a phone provider and make and receive calls wherever they were in the world. It was also a boon for phone service providers who were delighted with the additional income from foreign users who were roaming onto their network.

Now that network access has become much more widespread, users are still left with the problem of where they can get access to electrical power to charge up their devices. Many businesses such as caf├ęs are willing to allow customers to plug-in any device they want, but there are situations where the number of customers wanting to take advantage of such a facility forces the business to be more restrictive about who they allow plug in devices and run up their electric bill. For example in Heathrow airport all of the electric sockets in public areas have deliberately been converted to use an unusual plug type to avoid travellers running up a huge electric bill for the airport as they charge up their various devices.

People whose batteries are running low while they are away from home, would be willing to pay a reasonable fee for access to electric power. Unfortunately the small amount of money that is considered reasonable to charge for access to an electric socket means that the cost of collecting the fees would almost outweigh the money taken in and such paid charging stations are still a rarity.

What I think we need is a convenient way of allowing consumers to pay for the electricity they use away from their home by having the charge added to their home electric account in much the same way that the charge for calls made on other networks is added to the bill from their home network (or deducted from their call credit if it is a pre-pay phone). For this to work, we need something equivalent to the SIM card in a GSM phone which identifies which account the phone is associated with. Luckily there is already a mechanism defined by the RightPlug Standard where the plug associated with a device can be uniquely identified to the socket into which the device is plugged in. The RightPlug Alliance which is promoting this standard seems to mainly envisage that the standard would be used for safety monitoring, but I think it could have even more potential if adapted for use in a billing system.

I would love if someone offered such a service and I am sure they could find it quite profitable. I would definitely subscribe to such a service if it existed, but I don't think I personally would be interested in getting into this business.

No comments:

Post a Comment