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23 May 2018

Wireless networks letting down UK’s smart meter program

Many countries have ambitious smart meter programs, driven by governments or utilities, which are often held up as one of the primary examples of strong Internet of Things (IoT) business models. However, in the UK, the plan to install smart meters in every property in the nation by 2020 is being held back by inadequate wireless networks.

This claim was made by the Financial Times newspaper, and suggests that the wireless IoT business case will be hard to make for many MNOs until it becomes significantly cheaper and easier to achieve full wireless coverage, including indoors and in rural areas. And until that happens, together with other capabilities like high reliability, key IoT deployers like utilities will be wary of the MNOs as their connectivity partners.

According to the FT report, UK utility suppliers will have to install an average of 24 smart meters a minute from now until 2020, to meet the government’s wish to offer every household a smart meter (10m have been deployed, but the total target is 53m). It is estimated that the average home would save £47 on their gas and electricity bill by 2030 if it had a smart meter, and there would also be benefits for the utilities in terms of efficiency and customer data analytics, and for environmental targets.

But the first generation meters tied users to a particular utility and stopped working if the customer changed to a new one. These have been superseded, for new deployments, by a new generation called Smet-2s, which can communicate between suppliers. But they require an advanced wireless network to communicate effectively, and deployment has been delayed.

That network is being deployed by the Data Communication Company, part of Capita. It is working with O2 and Arqiva as the underlying connectivity suppliers.

“Designing, building and thoroughly testing a national communications and data network is a significant undertaking. It has been important to get this right,” said the UK’s The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in a statement.