UK smart meter network based on IPv6 wireless mesh tech

Telefónica on Wednesday unveiled more details about the smart metering contract won from the UK Department of Energy and Climate Control last week. According to the information, the smart meter network will see one of the first IPv6 implementations in an M2M environment, as well as the roll out of a mesh network software client that runs on top of any available data network including wifi, 3G and fixed broadband.

The UK’s Smart Meter Implementation Programme is a major national infrastructure project that will involve the roll out of 53 million gas and electricity meters across the UK by 2020. Telefónica’s UK unit, O2, will serve two of the project’s three regions, catering to the Central and Southern sectors. The deal is valued at £1.5bn over a 15-year lifespan, the operator said, and remains subject to contracts being agreed.

Telefonica’s proposed communications solution for the smart metre network is based on its existing cellular rollout, supported by Connode’s IPv6 based wireless mesh solution which will connect meters in areas without cellular coverage.

Connode, based in Sweden, has specialised in the deployment of large-scale wireless mesh networks for ten years. The company will supply a narrowband mesh software client will run in the residential Communications Hub as a complement to the cellular network.

The system is based on the 6LoWPAN initiative founded by an IETF working group dedicated to pushing IPv6 over Low power Wireless Personal Area Networks under the idea that “the Internet Protocol could and should be applied even to the smallest devices.”

The IPv6 mesh network can then be established over any available carrier, including but not limited to, 2G/3G cellular, wifi, power line IP, and Bluetooth. Connode server software will also be integrated in Telefónica’s Smart M2M architecture.

Depending on how you view the concept of 6LoWPAN, as a network sitting on top of any other available networks, it can chime with or go against some beliefs that cellular networks are not the best solution for M2M connectivity. At the Cambridge Wireless Future of Wireless event in July, James Collier, CTO of white space solutions provider Neul, said that M2M services required “a network designed for purpose.”

In a challenge to the cellular industry, he said: “Mobile operators are not set up to provide this kind of connectivity because it’s not symmetric. It’s really quite different from the current P2P view of the world that these operators have,” he said. “Do [M2M customers] want to put [their] investment in the hands of an operator whose motivations are not the same as theirs, an operator that may not be around at the end of that 15-year period, an operator for whom serving them is currently merely a sideline designed to fill “marginal or spare capacity”? I don’t believe they do.”

Alex Sinclair, CTO at the GSMA, hit back, saying: “To suggest that MNOs will not be significant players smacks of ideology rather than commercial sense.”

Paul Krivine, Smart Energy – Smart Home Project Director, for EDF will be speaking at the Broadband World Forum, taking place on the 22nd – 24th October 2013 at the RAI Exhibition and Convention Centre, Amsterdam. Click here to download a brochure for the event and here to register for a conference pass.

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