Broadcast signal distribution company Arqiva has opened a pilot network to test the viability of long-range radio to provide the network infrastructure for the UK's £10bn smart meter/smart grid project.
The pilot project includes BAE Systems subsidiary Detica, to provide security against hackers and ensure the quality of the data, and smart meter technology from US-based Sensus.
Energy suppliers in the scheme include nPower, Southern Energy and Southern Electric.
The pilot network covers some 200,000 homes in 80 square kilometres around Reading, using existing Arqiva transmitters. It uses Arqiva-owned frequencies in the 400MHz band. These provide better building penetration at lower energy levels with fewer transmitters than the high frequency GSM and GPRS signals used by mobile phone network operators.
The network will test the ability to send and receive information and instructions to smart meters and energy distribution control equipment. Both broadcast and multipoint modes will be tested.
This is seen as essential to moving the smart meter network quickly from collecting and displaying consumption and tariffing information to a smart grid, where energy firms can manage demand remotely by restricting or cycling energy supply to consumers.
Arquiva received a government grant to set up the pilot. This will enable it to run for at least 12 months and to publish the results for all parties. Arqiva smart meter project director Mike Green said he hoped it would go on for at least five years.
Mike Green also said he hoped it would be the test-bed site for the UK network roll-out, which could begin in 2012.