Hence the need for a proper, UK-appropriate specification, called SMETS2. Much of this is well thought out, but the consortium behind it, the DCC, has acknowledged that obsolescence is built in.
“SMETS1 and SMETS2 assets have a 15-year life,” it notes. For those of us who rely on them, that’s a big ask, as well as being a continuous rolling expense for consumers.
Perhaps technology may come to the rescue. Just as it’s possible to emulate an old 1980s 8-bit micro computer game in a modern computer, it’s technically feasible to emulate a 2G network inside a more modern 5G network.
But this work is in its infancy, and would require keeping a small slice of the 2G frequency bands reserved for today’s meters. Such emulation technology is not proven or widely deployed, and civil servants do not appear aware of its existence.
Most galling of all is that Whitehall was warned, and key administrators were in the room when those warnings were made.
Representatives of both Ofcom and DCMS sit on the UK’s Spectrum Policy Forum, the expert body which in 2019 reported that 2G was far more widely used than many people realised, and should be considered national critical infrastructure.
For example, car telematics systems now also use 2G and 3G, as well as the eCall safety system that has been compulsory in every car sold in the EU since 2018. Two years ago, the Forum’s Tony Lavendar, a member of the forum’s steering board, was very clear.
“2G enables smart metering and the mobile phones used by many vulnerable people in society. We need to think through the alternatives for these services before switching them off,” he said. The Forum recommended 2039 as a date to stop using the networks.
But in Whitehall, nobody wanted to be the Bad News Bear. I have a theory why. Civil servants love having new and fashionable things on their resumés. 5G is sexy and is believed to enhance one’s career prospects in the private sector, they reason. Who wants “kept an ancient technology going for a bit longer” on their CV?
One answer might be to create a Department of Critical National Infrastructure – but Departments like Business, Transport and MiniFun itself would only yield up the favourite part of their fiefdoms very reluctantly.
Andrew Orlowski tweets at @andreworlowski