BT shuns GPRS for UK-wide smart meter bid

Having spent 18 months investigating the best wireless options for smart metering, the UK's incumbent fixed line operator BT has chosen a dedicated long-range wireless solution instead of opting for GPRS.

The company, which plans to lead a consortium to bid for the UK-wide, government-backed smart meter initiative later this year, believes that a service based upon a dedicated 400 MHz solution would provide better in-building coverage compared to a more conventional GPRS-based offering.

This decision follows recent research from analyst firm Ovum which stated that GPRS had some severe limitations due to the majority of UK meters being installed in cellars or part-buried, causing connectivity issues for GPRS networks.

The British government is scheduled to publish a prospectus in September providing more details about the smart metering project and the possible commercial opportunities. The document should provide details of the smart metering requirement that need to be implemented in 28 million residential premises and small businesses by 2020.

To bid for this work, BT has partnered with Detica, an information management specialist, and Arqiva, which would provide the network and spectrum. Arqiva is closely involved in the switch from analogue to digital TV broadcasts in the UK.

An additional partner, U.S.-based Sensus, will be providing its FlexNet long range radio system specifically developed for utilities.

"BT is determined to be at the heart of the project," said BT's strategy director Olivia Garfield. "We believe that long-range radio is the only technology to offer nationwide coverage and we will release more detail in September."

According to John Cronin, MD for Arqiva, "The only way to achieve this is through a dedicated network based on long range radio. It needs a communications network that is designed to meet the unique needs of all of the UK electricity, gas and water suppliers that must be able to deliver universal connectivity and long term resilience."

BT's intention to bid is expected to be contested by proposals from at least one UK cellular operator. Vodafone and Orange have already indicated strong interest in entering the smart metering market, with Vodafone having signed a contract with British Gas to install around 1 million GPRS smart meter connections, while Orange is working on a similar trial with National Grid.

For more on this story:
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