The UK is adding a new mobile provider to its nationwide smart meter network for reasons that are not immediately clear.

Nick Wood

August 3, 2023

3 Min Read
Circular futuristic interface of smart home automation assistant
Circular futuristic interface of smart home automation assistant on a virtual screen and a user touching a button

The UK is adding a new mobile provider to its nationwide smart meter network for reasons that are not immediately clear.

Vodafone has been chosen as the new supplier by the Data Communications Company (DCC) – the outfit that manages the network – and will build and operate a 4G IoT connectivity service under a contract that could run for up to 15 years.

DCC said Voda’s 4G network – which currently covers 99% of the population – will provide the all-important comms link between DCC’s servers and its upcoming LTE-enabled Communication Hubs, which are installed in the customer’s home and connect the smart meter and the in-home display to the network.

The upgrade to 4G will enable DCC’s wide area smart metering network to support newer, more advanced services as they materialise, it said.

However, DCC said the new network will operate in parallel with the UK’s existing smart meter networks.

In Wales and the South of England, connectivity is currently delivered by Virgin Media O2’s 2G and 3G networks, while in Scotland and the North of England, the network is operated by Arqiva, using its 400-MHz, long-range radio spectrum.

DCC isn’t presenting this announcement as a switch to Vodafone from the other suppliers, but chances are this is exactly what this is, at least at some point in the future.

UK telco watchdog Ofcom wants all operators to have switched off their 2G and 3G networks by 2033 at the latest so the spectrum can be re-farmed for faster, more efficient wireless networking tech. This isn’t a problem for EE, Three and Vodafone, which are all at various stages of phasing out 3G.

VMO2 has been quiet on this subject though, and has yet to formally announce its own shutdown plan. There could be all sorts of explanations for this, one of which might be that its 3G network is currently being used for a sizeable chunk of the UK’s smart metering network.

Given how long it has taken the UK to roll out smart meters, there’s a chance that VMO2’s 3G network might be sticking around for a bit longer than its rivals’.

Indeed, ripping out and replacing smart meter hubs within a year of two of installation is not a good look for a programme that claims to be about helping the environment, so there is every chance DCC wants to take its 4G upgrade at a measured pace, hence why Voda’s network will run in parallel with the others.

There remains another missing piece of this puzzle though, which is that for some reason DCC is embarking on this network upgrade programme with a new supplier rather than sticking with VMO2 and using its 4G spectrum.

Like most government initiatives, the smart meter programme is running over budget and behind schedule – according to the National Audit Office, anyway. Perhaps one or both of DCC and VMO2 are looking for a fresh start when it comes to taking the scheme onto the next phase of its journey. Or perhaps there was simply a competitive tender process and Vodafone won it.

An O2 spokesperson told Telecoms.com: “We are focused on delivering our existing smart metering contract and will continue working with the DCC as they develop plans to migrate connectivity provider.”

When it comes to the matter of Arqiva, it’s using a different tech, and therefore DCC might be keen to replace it with a 4G operator so it can manage a single, nationwide network.

Separate statements from Vodafone and DCC espoused the energy-saving virtues of smart meters, but didn’t address any of the many questions raised by the announcement. Telecoms.com has contacted Vodafone and Arqiva and will update this story if it hears back.

 

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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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