I spent an interesting morning with Arqiva yesterday at their Brookmans Park Transmission Station to learn about their smart metering proposition.
Arqiva is a privately-owned company in terrestrial broadcast transmission, satellite & media, and wireless access. The organisations that made up the company have their roots in the early days of UK broadcast transmissions 80 years ago. The £800m revenue company still broadcasts a variety of BBC and other services and has the largest portfolio of radio transmissions sites in the UK.
But Arqiva is now also putting forward its proposition for a smart meter communications network in the UK based on long-range radio. As I’ve mentioned in previous articles, there are several competing technologies in this race:
• Mesh radio - proprietary networks such as that from Trilliant, already supplying software to British Gas
• GPRS/GSM - potentially a range of providers
• WIMAX (wireless broadband) – Cisco, Motorola, Intel and General Electric support a WIMAX solution
• Public wireless networks, e.g. Arqiva
Arqiva put forward a powerful case for the use of its technology. A broadcast solution is more reliable than wireless alternatives and requires far fewer masts than, for instance, mesh radio. Broadcasting is a proven technology and connects properties, rather than supplying consumers, which is what broadband/GSM is designed for. It is also inherently more secure from hacking than alternatives. And Arqiva is used to delivering services over a long period – broadcast contracts tend to be 15 years plus – which is what’s needed for the lifetime of smart meters.
There was more and it all made a lot of sense, but it remains to be seen which technology is actually adopted. In any case, history tells us that the best technology does not always win out. The process of choosing suppliers for the UK network starts later in the year.
The GSM infrastructure has a head start, because it’s already in place, but Arqiva would argue that it’s not the most appropriate or technologically suitable solution. The company has launched a pilot service of its long-range radio service in Reading which may help establish its case.
The proof–of-concept network is part funded by an award from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) and Arqiva has partnered with npower, to test the system, and Sensus for the smart meter telemetry. Yesterday the company also announced that they have been joined in the trial by Detica (owned by BAE Systems), who will focus on maintaining network security, an increasing concern about smart grid and smart meter networks.
Arqiva certainly has a good case for its solution, but there are a lot of forces lined up in the battle to supply the UK smart grid communications infrastructure, including some formidable ICT suppliers who are championing specific technologies. Of course others are playing the field, and Arqiva has been talking to them.