Assess smart meter network on total cost of ownership, says Arqiva

The government should base its assessment of communications network alternatives for the proposed national £10bn smart meter/smart grid project on the total cost of ownership over the entire 25 year expected life of the project…

The government should base its assessment of communications network alternatives for the proposed national £10bn smart meter/smart grid project on the total cost of ownership over the entire 25 year expected life of the project, according to Arqiva smart meter project director David Green.

Arqiva, a broadcast signal distributor for the BBC, ITV, mobile network operators and others, is teaming up with BAE Systems subsidiary Detica and US-base smart energy technology supplier Sensus to offer a dedicated network based on long-range radio.

David Green said the firms would go to market with a number of systems integrators interested in managing the entire project, and would compete strongly for the network component.

Green was speaking ahead of the government's release of its latest thoughts on the project to replace the UK's 47 million gas and electricity meters, expected this month. The industry expects the government to issue formal requests to tender some time in 2011. Commercial roll-out is expected to begin in 2012, with an end-date of 2020 or 2017, if possible.

A long-range radio network would be cheaper and quicker to set up, he said. Arqiva could blanket the country with as few as 2,500 transmitters, many of which were already in place. It took a week to set up a pilot network to serve 200,000 homes in the Reading area, he said. "We could have the network waiting for the meters," he said.

Green said Arqiva would use frequencies in the 400MHz band that it already owned. These frequencies gave better building penetration than those used for mobile phone network, and resulted in a better than 90% first time connection rate, he said.

A first-time connection rate of only 80% could add £1bn to the roll-out cost to re-engineer the network. This would have to be borne by consumers, he said.

A long-range radio solution would also inconvenience consumers less. Service staff would make fewer repeat calls to connect meters and to replace or refresh batteries, he said.

Green said GSM and GPRS mobile network technologies would reduce battery life. He said the present economic analyses did not account for extra home visits, but they would prove an expensive operating cost.

Green called on government to specify the network separately from the smart meter roll-out, and to assess replies based on lifetime cost of ownership, rather than initial capital costs. "The network will be there for 25 years but the meters will require upgrading in seven or eight years," he said.

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