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Vodafone UK to Upgrade Energy Smart Meters with 4G Mobile UPDATE

Wednesday, Aug 2nd, 2023 (2:09 pm) - Score 9,680
o2_uk_smart_meter_5g_energy_efficiency

Broadband and mobile operator Vodafone has today signed a new agreement – lasting for up to 15 years – with the Data Communications Company (DCC), which manages Britain’s national Smart Meter network. Under the deal, the operator will work to upgrade the Smart Meter network to harness 4G infrastructure.

Smart Meters in the UK (i.e. SMETS 1 and SMETS 2) currently tend to use a mix of wireless network technologies to communicate how much gas and electricity people are using back to a central database. This is better known as the Smart Metering Wide Area Network (SMWAN). Some water companies have also deployed similar technologies.

NOTE: The original 15-year O2 smart metering contract was worth £1.5bn, while Arqiva’s contract for the north was worth £625m – both were signed in 2013.

For example, Scotland and the North of England are largely served by Arqiva’s Long-Range Radio (LRR) wireless network, which operates in the 400MHz licensed spectrum band. By comparison, O2’s (Virgin Media) old 2G and 3G network is typically used to cater for meters installed across the rest of England and Wales.

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However, the government and UK mobile operators are currently in the process of phasing out 3G and, eventually, 2G networks. In other words, Smart Meters deployed in the Central and Southern regions of the UK may need to be replaced sooner than some might have expected.

The DCC has previously said they planned to start tackling this by making single band 4G Communications Hubs available in 2023, with dual-band kit expected to follow in Q2 2024. The big news today is that they’ve chosen Vodafone, rather than O2 (VMO2), to supply the Internet of Things (IoT) style 4G network service for this.

The new network will connect DCC’s servers with its Long-Term Evolution Communication Hubs that are in Britain’s homes, which in turn connect to gas and electricity smart meters. Vodafone will provide the 4G LTE network, with connectivity management delivered by its IoT platform, supported by IT and business consulting services firm CGI, who will be responsible for software development.

Nick Gliddon, UK Business Director of Vodafone, said:

“Today’s announcement underlines our commitment to helping the UK decarbonise. As a global leader in IoT, and with extensive experience in delivering reliable connectivity to the utilities industry in the UK, this agreement leverages the strengths of Vodafone. By helping DCC deliver on its strategy, we’re supporting the development, management, and optimisation of energy assets and so helping the UK work towards its net zero targets.”

O2 has yet to announce a firm plan for retiring either their 3G or 2G networks, although they’re at least expected to adhere to the government’s 2033 target for phasing out (here). But naturally older meters will need to be replaced BEFORE that date, and such programmes have a tendency to take several years to deliver, which means the work will still need to start in the not-too-distant future.

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However, we expect they’ll start by initially only deploying the 4G capable kit to new homes (i.e. those without an existing Smart Meter), while replacement work will probably follow later.

UPDATE 3rd August 2023

DCC has kindly clarified to us that the meters themselves won’t be replaced, it’s just the communications hub (i.e. the “router” that connects the meters in the home to the network). This is still a very big job, and it still requires a site visit to pull off, but it’s also a quicker and simpler job than when a Smart Meter is first fully installed.

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Mark-Jackson
By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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58 Responses
  1. Avatar photo dontcare says:

    Smart Meter are USELESS! Hate it.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      They’ve certainly had A LOT of problems, although I now find mine to be quite useful for managing usage alongside a solar/battery system.

    2. Avatar photo XGS Is On says:

      What do you hate about them? I have to have one to use an EV tariff but they seem pretty harmless.

    3. Avatar photo Lucian says:

      I used to think the same, but even for a regular household like mine (no solar, no battery) it allows certain insight into usage patterns and have become more aware of energy consumption, in a good way overall.

    4. Avatar photo Mark says:

      My issue is with the cost of all of these meters and upgrades. It must be astronomical and all the time, my energy company tells me ‘oh, but they are free!’

      As if the cost of this rollout, and the second and now the third generation is coming from the pockets of their shareholders!

  2. Avatar photo Kris says:

    The smart meter rollout has been a great example of how not to deliver an IT project.

    First SMETS1 meters went dumb if you switched supplier and then those and SMETS2 are designed with a communication system that is designed to be decommissioned within the life of the meter.

    Why don’t they move the existing meters onto the same system used in the north? If it works why is mobile signal a better option?

    1. Avatar photo Anon says:

      What they’ve not publicised well is they’ve sorted over the air updates for SMETS1 meters to put them onto the Smart Meter Network and work when you move.

      My Scottish Power SMETS1 meter is on that network and supplying full electricity import and export and gas readings to Octopus now. Scottish Power never got export working.

      The smart meter enables us to get time of day pricing for import and export, so we can get more for our excess solar and pay less when short by charging the system overnight. Don’t ask me where the home display is that was filed a long time ago!

    2. Avatar photo Brian says:

      When you say they work in the north, mine hasn’t worked since installed 18 months ago

    3. Avatar photo Tom says:

      they’ve sorted over the air updates for SMETS1 meters to put them onto the Smart Meter Network and work when you move.

      Tell that to my meters. I’ve not moved house in 6 years, my meters are still dumb and don’t even work with that “loop” service. My front gas meter recently ran it’s battery flat and left me without heating mid winter…. And had now been replaced with a dumb meter

      Why these things can’t just have a local hub that connects to them and uses my internet to return the data I don’t know.

      Also why don’t they do the 4g integration as an in place upgrade, swap the Comms board…

      This whole system seems like it’s been developed by someone who fell out of a time portal from the golden age of COBOL.

      Don’t get me wrong, I desperately want it all to work but British gas apparently don’t give a kahoot about my desire to actually have access to data

    4. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      my SMETS1 is still SMETS1 and hasn’t yet got the fancy OTA upgrade to make it SMETS2 compliant.

      The whole smart metering thing seems like a horrible mess with multiple layers of contractors and outsourcers. Great for accountants and lawyers who negotiate contracts, bad for everyone else.

      “Why these things can’t just have a local hub that connects to them and uses my internet to return the data I don’t know.”

      Because that requires everyone to have an internet connection, there will be places where it can’t be connected (eg for security reasons or simply unable to get a good wifi signal). Vacant properties probably won’t have internet access. If they’ve got to come up with an alternative solution for these, ie a mobile connection, then they might as well use it for everyone.

  3. Avatar photo Ogilvie Jackson says:

    Interesting…..now let me get this right. Is this for ALL the UK?
    because at the moment the THE COVERAGE IN SCOTLAND via Arquiva is appalling !.
    In other wards if you dont get a TV signal from your rooftop ..you dont get a Smart Meter signal.
    Vodaphone 4g , thanks to the Shared Rural Network and Scot Gov intervention , has better coverage than the 400mhz signal from Arquiva !!
    Fingers crossed .

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      So far as I can tell, it’s focused upon the bits served by O2’s network, rather than the north.

    2. Avatar photo Lucian says:

      It would have been interesting to use some alternative network like the LoRa implementations in Amazon Sidewalk or the Helium network.

    3. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      @Lucian, Smet2 meters use a mesh system so if the signal is not great they can use another meter nearby to send the info. Amazon sidewalk don’t exist in the UK, they would have to call it pavement :), I doubt it ever will as our privacy rules are slightly better than the U.S.

      The Data Communications Company is run by capita, the same capita thjat send bully boys around to peoples houses that don;lt have a TV licence or send intimidating letters to those same people. Had one today asking if I will be in on the 10 of August, i may be, but if they do come, which so far they have not, they are not getting their foot past the door.

      Capita is a company I would never trust, the government have too many fingers in it.

    4. Avatar photo APJ says:

      Crapita also just recently majorly screwed up and exposed lots of University staff personal data via the USS Pension scheme. I believe the M&S Pension scheme users personal details were also hacked. Since then, myself and others have had nuisance calls, hacked email accounts and people trying to take out credit accounts in our names!

    5. Avatar photo Mark says:

      Mark, While yes the rollout may cost a fair bit but older meters were already periodically replaced anyway and part of the cost is recouped is savings for the companies since they don’t need as many staff members.

      As an EV driver having a smart meter has saved me an absolute fortune over the last few years simply my being able to make the most of tariffs only available to people with smart meter.

  4. Avatar photo SmartUKlol says:

    I cant even get smart meters fitted. The energy supplier (Scottish power in this case) send letters/emails about ‘we are fitting smart meters in your area’. However when they come around to fit (electric) one, they say “we cant fit a smart meter here” Something about the wooden back board..anyway, so they say its Network distributor job, Network distributor say its landlords problem, landlord says its electricity supplier problem. Lol the UK.
    Same thing happened to one of my old work mates. His problem was the gas meter plinth.

    1. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

      What they mean is it looks a bit complicated and they don’t want to do the job. Usual BS.

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Now that would be nice, at least then they can stop sending you letters or emails about having a smart meter or try to force one onto you.

    3. Avatar photo Martin Carlsson says:

      Try So.Energy for gas, or Octopus for electricity. They are both very quick and professional when it comes to installing SMETS2 meters, in my personal experience.

    4. Avatar photo gerarda says:

      Octopus not so quick to install these days. Judging from the forums 3 months plus is fairly typical. We applied at the beginning of June and after some persistent chasing have been given an installation date of 31 August, so missing out the peak solar export months that sholud have made the smart meter worth getting

  5. Avatar photo MilesT says:

    I would presume the new meters will have the ability to be switched to pre-payment mode remotely (It’s my understanding that existing meters don’t always have this capability).

    Which can lead to “self disconnection” rather than “forced disconnection”–socially very troubling.

    1. Avatar photo Mark says:

      Smart meters will operate in both modes, you won’t be just switched to pre-pay though if you pay your bills, that also make it easier to be switched from pre-pay which previously was almost impossible.

    2. Avatar photo Lexx says:

      Prepay smart meters are physically different meters from normal smart meters

      Normal smet2 smart meter is just a standard energy meter with a replaceable mobile hat on top of it (they Lack the AC relay)

  6. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

    Two great companies in bed with each other, crapita and Vodarubbish. They suit each other.
    Not going to have a smart meter, don’t trust the government, Ofgem, Capita or the energy companies enough to allow them to stick a meter in. that they can control.

    they keep asking me about a smart meter and keep refusing.

  7. Avatar photo John says:

    Is this site sponsored by smart meters? Why was my comment saying smart meters can be controlled externally removed

  8. Avatar photo why says:

    Doesn’t seem to be mentioned but guessing the smart meters themselves won’t need to be replaced but rather just the Comms hub that sits on top.

    Still, why are they just now rolling out 4G ones? For gods sake skip it and roll out hubs that support 5G too.

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      My Electric meter may need to be replaced next year due as it is getting to that time, I know that they don’t have any old meters these days to install, so I am hoping they will remove the comms unit from mine.

  9. Avatar photo Not Sinophobic, but Concerned says:

    Yes – as per John’s comment – the two-way communication link can be used to remotely disable smart meters.

    Interesting that this DCC contract has been signed with Vodafone, ahead of their potential merger with Three.

    Call me paranoid, but there are not that many dots between the CCP which has outsized influence in the neighbouring Hong Kong, which is the registered home to Hutchison Telecoms, which will retain a significant (49%) ownership of the Three-Voda “MergeCo”, which will manage the comms between DCC and the nations electricity (and gas) meters…

    Whilst many may may scoff at the idea that the CCP would nationally disable the UK’s power supplies en masse, there is a spectrum of concern ranging from the routine monitoring of many or specific meters, through the potential interception and remote controlling of specific meters, all the way to a mass disabling event…

    None of the above may be ruled even if another mobile network was used and as much as I would like to hope that all the meters had a very robust set of protection and security mechanisms, which would thwart the ability for any man-in-the-middle attacks, I’m not entirely convinced that they would be able to detect nefarious activity..

    X

    1. Avatar photo Paranoia says:

      H3G are going to exit the UK comms marketplace anyway, so no need to be concerned about CCP. I think you should be more concerned about our own government & their buddies.

    2. Avatar photo John says:

      Not just the meters but the service as a whole can be disabled

      Like the guy said, while the CCP is a concern, the UK state is the immediate threat. I mean we are talking about a bunch of politicians (in the main parties) rolling out bills to look at what you type on WhatsApp without a warrant, they are rolling out CBDCs against the will of the public, they are restricting your freedom of movement with a plethora of taxes and restrictions including banning cars

      It is not impossible for a smart meter to be used against you, especially in the event of an emergency, and governments around the world have learned the lesson that they can manufacture emergencies to break laws and gain more powers

    3. Avatar photo NRG says:

      When youre on a smart meter all it takes is an error / payment error/ whatever reason they will come up with and BAM, you are forced to pay as you go, which means paying even more higher prices. Its all by design. The house always wins.

  10. Avatar photo Kyle says:

    So far we have had 4 engineer visits to try and get smart meter(s) in our basement since the basement is damp and no one wants to go down to manually put the electricity on.

    all 4 visits resulted in engineer saying “sorry we cannot do it as the smart meter cant get a signal down there”

    (im on O2) i stood next to the meter and called myself/text myself several times which went through just fine.

    thanks to having no joy with this i have to manually put the electricity on and the basement is disgusting…

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      Smart meters don’t work well in cellars, I know someone who is having the same problem, well they don’t think it is a problem, they are pleased. There was talk of an external aerial, which could be done, but since this bloke is against smart meters he is making it as difficult as he can. He told me they think he would damage the cable going to the antenna somehow to stop it working, so have given up for the moment.

  11. Avatar photo Ben says:

    I received my Octopus Home Mini just last weekend and it’s working well. Connects to the WiFi and readings are sent to Octopus every few seconds. Unfortunately Octopus can’t use this channel for billing, but I believe they are looking into it. For 99.9% of the country, a WiFi solution would work much better. The meters store weeks of readings so even if people lost connectivity it wouldn’t hurt. Of course it does mean giving them a WiFi password (mines on a separate network) which some people may be uncomfortable doing.

    1. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      The home mini works differently, the smart meter still sends the info to Octopus as normal, what the home mini is doing is more or less getting the info from your online account, more or less the same as you would if you use the app on your phone or web site.
      A smart meter using Wi-fi may sound a good idea, but with some problems. For a start, it would have to have some way of changing the SSID, username and password, just in case someone changes their router or even the router SSID. They would be connecting to a personal device, so the person could refuse to allow it. People who are against smart meters and have them forced onto them could disconnect them. I expect there are more, I can’t think of at the moment.

      I donl;t really understand the point of the Octopus home mini, according to the blurb on their site it shows you up-to-the-minute smart insights via your Octopus Energy app. Are there really people out there who want to keep that much of an eye on the energy they are using?

      You make a cup of tea, use use your kettle, you are not going to turn it back off again when you see how much it is going to cost. We are told that smart meters will allow us to keep an eye on our energy use, yeah ok, only if you’re obsessed by it.
      I have smart plugs, most have an energy monitor built in, I used them to see how much energy stuff use per hour and wrote it on a bit of paper, worked out how much a device cost per hour to use, now I know.
      I don’t need a display showing me every time I put my coffee machine on that it is going to use a certain amount of energy, I am still going to use it.
      You save energy by turning things off that are not being used, not filling your kettle up full if not needed, washing at lower temperatures, if you have a dishwasher then filling it right up before using it. Hang washing on the line more often instead of using the energy sucking tumble dryer.

      The majority of people I know that have smart meters have put their display in the drawer, which goes against the governments’ idea that smart meters will make people look at their energy use.

  12. Avatar photo Martin says:

    I suspect by the time 4G smart meters are common place (probably 10-15 years, as that’s when the current ones will reach end of life), the mobile networks will be wanting to ditch 4G as they’ll be on 9G by then 😉

  13. Avatar photo Jon says:

    And who I wonder is picking up the extra costs for this poorly thought out scheme, which in reality only benefits the suppliers?!!!!!

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      We all are, because the costs are recovered through our energy bills. However, don’t blame suppliers, they don’t benefit from this, they didn’t want this, and the argued that they shouldn’t be responsible for it. But they were ignored, it’s just yet another complicated and expensive wheeze mandated by government in their Canutian war on climate change.

      We had a working energy system, government are progressively breaking it, and making it less reliable and more expensive. You voted for that, didn’t you? All the political parties support these changes, so unless you didn’t vote at all, then you’ve given the democratic mandate for it.

  14. Avatar photo Barry Wilkinson says:

    I have lived here for 14 years and I am still waiting for 4g on any network. I can get Vodafone 3g (soon to be discontinued) at the top of my garden if the weather is good. Nothing on any other network.

  15. Avatar photo Barry Wilkinson says:

    I cannot see a Smart Meter here any time soon.

    1. Avatar photo Chris G says:

      @Barry

      Vodafone will soon be turning off 3G in our area. No matter that you and I only get a semi-reliable Vfe 3G signal (2G and 4G hanging out an upstairs window). The spectrum that is freed up will be used to fill in coverage gaps like ours. I expect we they will soon start installing 5G small cells on every other lamp post down our road and a new 4G antenna on the church tower. I think your biggest worry will be all the radiation from all that coverage.

      It will all come good, mark my words. PS, on may way over for a beer 🙂

      Chris

  16. Avatar photo SMETS says:

    Shouldnt we be on SMETS 3 or SMETS 4 by now?

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      Logically yes. The SMETS2 standard was outdated even when approved, it’s now technically obsolete like all the early smart meters. However, changing anything that requires cross-industry approval, regulator approval, and has the dead hand of government on the tiller…you know what to expect.

  17. Avatar photo alan says:

    I have the Electric Smets2 Meter in a box on the right side outside wall
    On the other side on the left (parallel) wall is the gas meter
    It cant communicate with the Smart Meter through the brickwork
    I was told by Octopus I am stuck with an analogue Gas Meter for the forseeable future
    Crap Technology

    1. Avatar photo Andrew G says:

      Be happy with your analogue gas meter. If a smart meter goes wrong, it disconnects your supply. So a hardware fault or a battery failure, and no gas until the meter is replaced. A poor concept, a poor design, and an unnecessary waste of billions of pounds. Proof that you can get government to do anything, no matter how half-witted so long as it carries the label “contributes to net zero”.

    2. Avatar photo Ad47uk says:

      You must have some think brickwork. a lot of people got gas outside and electric inside and even if on the same wall they should communicate.

    3. Avatar photo Anon says:

      They’re wrong as they’re lying that a smart meter cannot be fitted for your gas supply.

      I was in a similar situation where a smart meter was fitted for the electricity but I still had to take manual readings for the gas.

      Eventually a engineer turned up who knew his stuff and got a smart meter fitted that takes readings for both electricity and gas even though both supplies are about 10ft apart so nowhere close.

      I told the engineer who finally turned up what his colleagues had said and they said that’s rubbish, there’s no reason why one cannot be fitted.

      Both work absolutely fine and it’s useful to see when it’s cheaper to use gas or electricity saving me money in the long run.

      Sometimes you just need to he firm with your energy provider while other times it’s just luck if you get a engineer who really knows his stuff.

    4. Avatar photo XGS says:

      ‘Be happy with your analogue gas meter. If a smart meter goes wrong, it disconnects your supply.’

      Where did this come from? That’d be spectacularly illegal and, from personal experience, doesn’t happen.

      Getting the damn thing replaced is a torment but the system doesn’t fail to cut off out of the box. That’d be insanity.

  18. Avatar photo Ivor says:

    So I take it this means yet another round of physical visits to each and every smart meter to replace the comms module at enormous cost – possibly a third visit for those who had SMETS1, then SMETS2, then now to SMETS2+4G

    I guess it was too much to ask for the devices to come with 4G hardware? But then it was apparently too much to ask to flesh out the SMETS standard before buying hardware…

    1. Avatar photo Ivor says:

      and just on that – it seems strange to need an external network at all given that the electricity companies are best placed to build their own. I believe that’s how they do it in the US, the meters can mesh themselves towards a transmitter that has a data link

  19. Avatar photo Lucke0121 says:

    Vodafone use to be a great network. Dont know why they have dropped so bad

  20. Avatar photo Anon says:

    O2’s 3G shutoff is definitely NOT adhering to the 2033 target. Their internal target is 2025. They have a network evolution planned for 2024 so hopefully they should get 5G SA rolled out before they axe 3G/2G.

  21. Avatar photo DaveZ says:

    After 5 years of pestering, let them put one in on Tuesday. Now you tell me it needs replacing. That’s my luck all over.

    As far as its usefulness, the only thing it seems to do is save me walking 10 feet to take a meter reading. The only people to benefit are the electricity companies who can put some poor old meter reader out of a job. And how do they get off on the idea it saves money. Someone has to pay for the equipment and installation work, so how the hell is it going to save money? (That will ultimately be you paying, by the way). And now I’m told it will soon need doing again. What a joke.

    Actually, the real joke is the electricity company tell me they have so far failed to connect to it.

    1. Avatar photo anonymous says:

      It doesn’t save anyone money, and you are paying for it yourself in your energy bills.

      Thank your LibLabCon uniparty overlords.

  22. Avatar photo Disgruntled from Dankshire says:

    Had smart meter installed by a non SMS contractor, from octopus. The lead time was 3 months, but it would appear I got a no show, so it happened with a month.
    (and I got finger puppets for the grand kids).
    On the aquiss system as up here in the north hills get in the way of most
    vhf/uhf communications. Feeding data into computer using a third party gadget.
    No more going out in my ganzi on the first of the month to read the meters.
    I pay upfront, on a direct debit(more like the good old standing orders) ,
    no weird calculations, no issues at the who owns what, no auto dd increases.
    Six suppliers since 2014, all gone bust since then, Octopus haven’t, yet

    The energy system in the country is weak and will run into more issues in the future due to
    political divering and under investment.

  23. Avatar photo Big Dave says:

    We were due to get smart meters when we recontracted during lockdown. Bloke turns up, looks at our elderly boiler like it had just landed from Mars, then put several boxes out doing ? then informed us we needed dual band meters and would have to come back. That was the last we saw of them 3 years ago. Quite happy to put manual meter readings in monthly.

  24. Avatar photo Mr James Masters says:

    I’ve had a smart meter fitted, but it doesn’t get a signal. My car does. Does anybody know whether the meter only uses O2 signals because Telefonica provide the service, as O2 is rubbish in the country and EE is Ok.

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