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BT hitches onto Arqiva wagon for utility smart meter ride

Signal distribution company Arqiva has attracted BT and security specialist Detica as partners to address communications for the UK's £10bn smart meter roll-out programme.

Arqiva has argued that the project requires long range radio rather than wired or mobile radio technologies such as GSM or GPRS because it gives better and more reliable coverage, as well as being quicker and cheaper to cover the country's 28 million homes.

Announcing the partnership today, BT said it has spent 18 months studying different technologies. "Unlike mobile, it can provide truly nationwide coverage and dependable reception indoors," BT said.

"The fact it operates on dedicated licensed spectrum is also important as it is ideal in ensuring the security of supply and protection of consumer data while meeting the needs of the energy industry," it said.

Long range radio has been used successfully in North America by Sensus, a turnkey smart meter supplier, which is supplying its FlexNet technology to the Arqiva consortium.

Meter roll-out

The smart meter project will replace the country's 47 million gas and electricity meters with meters that can update a central database with consumption information.

The government hopes consumers will be more careful about when and how much energy they use if they can see a real-time display of their consumption, either using a wall-mounted display or via an alert on their mobile phones.

The government hopes it will cut the UK's carbon dioxide emissions by 2.6 million tonnes a year when the roll-out is complete, expected in 2020, or 2017, if coalition government goals are reached.

Tariff expansion

However, the smart meter project should be a pre-cursor to a national smart grid, which would give energy suppliers direct control over consumption at the point of use, say experts.

It will also allow energy suppliers to introduce more tariffs. These will effectively penalise usage at some times of the day, and possibly reward customers if they use less or at less popular times of day. They hope this will smooth demand for energy, cutting their internal costs.

Energy suppliers will also scrap meter readers, destroying thousands of jobs. But consumers should get more accurate bills and should be able to change suppliers within a day because they will no longer have to submit final readings.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change is expected to announce its latest thinking on the smart meter roll-out later this month. This is a prelude to issuing formal requests for tender in September.


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