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back to article New UK 'leccy meters remotely run via Voda 2G

British Gas is to deploy meters with embedded mobile phones, and Zigbee networking, to ensure we know how much electricity we're using, and they do too. The smart meters use Vodafone's 2G network to send back readings and allow British Gas to see exact levels of 'leccy consumption at any time, while the Zigbee connectivity …

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Unhappy

Smart meters installation starts next month

Smart meter hacking starts 1 week later.

Who can contain their excitement at such an announcement?

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1 week later?

Blimee, you're a bit slow off the mark... I'll be at it the moment the engineer shuts his van door!

I wish them good luck controlling it via 2G though. My mobile signal is weak enough when the phone is left on a window ledge, I don't fancy their chances in the cupboard under the stairs, not unless they have a 2 foot antenna!

It's odd they go to all that trouble and don't just give you a £5 discount if they can use your internet wifi.

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Anonymous Coward

It's British gas' fault

BG were offered 3g, powerline and regional data concentratorssolutions.

But in theirhaste to pre-empt the govt and establish their version as a de-facto standard they stuck to the 2g.

AC for obvious reasons...

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Well

Does a smart meter really need a 3G connection? surely GPRS would be fine for the job, and the 2G signal is usually better.

That said, there is no logical reason not to go for powerline internet for smartmeaters- Solves coverage issues AND opens a new revenue stream.

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Megaphone

What's the uplink for?

Top of my list of questions is why British Gas has suddenly decided it needs a realtime feed of everyone's electricity usage. Let's knock down a few of the more commonly used justifications:

(1) It allows them to do 'real time' pricing. Well, radio teleswitch has been doing this for years for the economy 7 tariffs - and no need for an uplink there. Broadcasting at UHF/VHF has already been demonstrated to be the best way of implementing this feature, even if the existing protocols need replacing for the new generation of meters. And guess what - there's shortly going to be a whole bunch of empty spectrum ideally suited to delivering this kind of broadcast service!

(2) It allows the electricity generators to dynamically adjust supply according to demand. Well, WTF do you think the National Grid was doing for the best part of the 20th Century? Monitoring individual consumer usage would just generate vastly more data than can be sensibly used in this context - other than by building a British Gas version of Skynet.

(3) It eliminates the need to send a meter reader round in a van. Like estimated readings already do? Like the ability to enter your meter reading on the website already does? The fact is, flesh-based meter readers will always be required because they are the only reliable way of detecting physical tampering.

The bottom line is that I can't think of any justifiable reason why I'd want British Gas to monitor my domestic energy use in real time - so I just can't see why they need that uplink.

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Facepalm

What about wired connectivity?

How many customers already have some form of Broadband connection that is on 24/7?

How many of them have a Wireless network of some form?

Why not have a device that can be made to use the customers own wireless lan + broadband?

Well Doh?

This could also save the moble spectrum from overload.

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7

simple really

Because connectivity and by extension, control of the meter must under no circumstances rely on the end user.

Not to mention support costs to explain to joe public how to hook it up to the usually wpa'd router.

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Facepalm

Because...

...it would only work on Windows (and then not properly), there'd be no Linux version, Apple would want 30% of the electricity bill if there was an OSX version and the Government would end up accused (rightly) of being in bed with another cretinous Corporation wanting to install spyware into our homes. And the software used would probably be hacked and infected within 36 hours.

Other than that?

A fine idea Stanley.

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Possibly a daft question

Can't they use the physical wires to transmit information rather than relying on a mobile signal?

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Anonymous Coward

powerline comms

Yes powerline comms is possible but it is also quite expensive to implement (lots of nasty voltages) and requires local concentrators as range is limited and noise on the transmission medium is severe.

10 years ago I was working for a meter firm and their plan was to use powerline comms to the street and GSM from there.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: powerline comms

It used to be possible in my house, until I plugged in the wall wart which came with BT's home hub 3... The damn thing puts so much noise on the ring main my Zyxel ethernet over mains boxes lose sync and refuse to talk!

I replaced the adapter (had to chop and solder the original DC plug because BT used an odd size) and everything was happy again.

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Bronze badge

today it is just about getting the remotely readable meters into homes

...so people can start working out how to turn off each others' electricity supplies whenever they feel like it.

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Excellent!

Finally a way to deal with those beat-thumping hip-hop listening neighbours.

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Black Helicopters

At what cost?

We are all being told to unplug chargers when not in use, so at what cost are these devices to run. I assume the power is drawn prior to metering - nope, didnt think so (just a wild guess).

What are they needed for anyway - we all know where our electric goes, and unless we are billed and charged daily, whats the point. For those of us on annual direct debits, just one read a year is all thats really needed (and I can do that - and enter the details into a website)

Perhaps the tin foil brigade was right, this is just another way to monitor us all!

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Re: At what cost?

"We are all being told to unplug chargers when not in use, so at what cost are these devices to run."

Nothing. Chargers that aren't in use draw so little power that you need specialist gear to actually measure it. (But yes, we are always being told that.)

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not quite

First of all, unplugging chargers and turning appliances off instead of stand-by will have precious little effect in the greater scheme of things ( http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c19/page_114.shtml )

Secondly, by design, the power draw is done prior to the metering for the meter's power draw (not so for the IHU [in-home unit]).

In the future you'll get a whole palette of tariffs as opposed to today's 2. So when peeps have their IHU's can quickly glance and see a quasi-traffic light representation of their current tariff and decide accordingly.

Plus, the thinking is that consumers would be more motivated to change habits when the results of their actions can be measured and presented tangibly in near real-time. If your (actual) billing interval is 6 months the likelihood you'd notice the positive effects of more energy efficient appliances would be negligible.

Finally, as for the monitoring argument, me thinks that smart meters are quite dumb on the surveillance front. There's other outlets that lend themselves to more effortless and meaningful monitoring.

The more sinister part is when adverts start rolling in to those IHU's and utilities auction them off, with extra charges to have the IHU beep to draw your attention....

AC, as per post above....

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FAIL

@Ken

Recent switched mode chargers used no meaningful power, but plenty of older transformers do use a measurable amount even when unused (that's why they stay warm). There is still a considerable amount of older kit in use in households.

It's still arguable the power used is too small to be of concern but when you are trying to save every last penny as fuel costs rise ...

An interesting note; my latest LED bedside lamp is brighter than the 10w halogen it replaced but it uses just 1.5w - less than many idle transformers I've tested. It just goes to show how inefficient those old power adapters really are.

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Flame

What power! What brilliance!

Betting this will be yet another compulsory thing that customers will have to take unpaid time off work between 8am and 8pm on a week day to have done.

Also for those of us on pay-as-you-go systems, I can forsee calls to BG starting "My meter just updated and wiped all my remaining credit"... "We are sorry sir, you will have to pay us for the same electricity again"...

</rant>

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Meter charging..

My last meter replacement was done on a Saturday, and they came almost exactly when they said they would. Although i suspect if everyone's needs to be done, Saturday may be a bit harder to get.

Personally, i expect PAYG meters will remain the same, with the power measurement bit wired after it and seperate, mainly because if they build a PAYG power measurement meter, its another bit of hardware to be tested and certified, and they already seem to be going at the cheapest option.

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Since it's there, might as well use it

> Mobile networks aren't ideal for such things,

Actually they sound like quite a decent fit for this application. It's not as if the meter HAS to send its readings only once at peak times on a weekday or it's lost forever. They can (and may well be) used overnight and send their readings every few days. If the SMS fails the first time, it'll be no worse than the meter reader trying to call when you're out.

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But

What about meters fitted where there is no signal at all?

From memory of the 2G connection I used to get in the days when I had a 2G phone on Vodafone, that would be, er, pretty much all of the town I live in.

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There's an answer to that one .....

If no Vodafone signal they have SIMs for a couple of other networks and if none of these work the customer has to make a landline available. Annoyed some of the shop owners in the Eastgate Shopping Centre in Inverness no end, because at the metering point in the depths of the building there's apparently no signal for any network.

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@Steve Davies 3

That might be a possibility if BG are willing to pay for part of my broadband bill.

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Re: James 47

That will be an awful lot less than the Mobile billy they will sting you for!

Seriously,

A few small packets once a week or so won't impact your DSL bill. We are talking Kb of data here. Unless that is you are downloading that much Pron?

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Mushroom

Big Brother

It won't be long before they'll be able to have the ability to remotely turn off your supply at a switch if you haven't paid the bill. (Wonder how long it'll take them to turn off your supply and how long to re-instate it due to an error or when you have paid!?)

Or question your usage.

Or ration it.

Or get hacked and you find your meter is flapping on and off or just off.

Or fall in to the hands of the government.

No doubt that the cost of the service will be passed on to us rather than from their own profits too.

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Re: Big brother

They can already do all of these things, just not remotely. The reason they don't is that if they get it wrong then the legal and PR penalities are considerable. Being able to do it remotely doesn't change that and any power company that thinks otherwise will be out of business faster than they can flip the switches.

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@Big Brother

>>"It won't be long before they'll be able to have the ability to remotely turn off your supply at a switch if you haven't paid the bill."

For which, presumably, they'd have to actually come round and install an extra remote-controlled switch.

Unless a meter is actually designed with power disconnection hardware, it's not as if it can get a remote software upgrade to install such a capacity.

So if you want to be paranoid, shouldn't you be trying to get 'them' to install a new meter *now*, rather than risk the possibility that somehow 'they' find a way of making disconnection circuitry small, reliable and cheap enough to be worth installing in some future generation of meters even though such hardware would be very rarely activated?

And, as Ken Hagan pointed out, remote disconnection has all kinds of potential PR/legal problems, especially if power is removed from one or other vulnerable person.

Illogical though it may be, I think people would be rather more likely to blame a power company for a bad outcome from a remote disconnection (like granny falling and breaking a hip after the lights go out) than they would if the same outcome happened as a result of a prepay meter running out of credit.

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Stop

Interesting...

I do know that in some parts of the world, they already use SIM chips in traffic lights - which in some cases prompted vandalism in order for thieves to get at the chips and so make long-distance calls. No joke.

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Easily solved

I remember hearing about that too

but its easy to solve: block voice services from the SIMs.

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Anonymous Coward

They chose a different route

They just updated something so that those SIMs could only access a certain number.

Boggles the mind that they could access world-wide numbers before.

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Thumb Down

Switch off my freezer?

Great, come back from work to a big puddle on the floor. What could possibly go wrong?

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Re: Switch off my freezer?

If you come home to a big puddle on the floor, it is because you allowed it. The power company can't force you to give them control over it. They'll have to reward you financially and you might not reckon it is worth the risk.

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Unhappy

Oh so wrong!

You won't have a choice this has been mandated by the government (obviously after much lobbing by the energy companies stating Climate Change as the reason).

We are all paying for the installation of these meters as a levy has been added to energy bills to claw the installation costs back.

The energy companies and government will have the ability to switch off power as and when required:-

Not paid your bill - Power off

Possible brown outs due to lack of generating capacity - Consumer power off, business run as normal

Rioting in London - Power off so that the media cannot esculate the problems.

Then there will be the equivilant of train fares for energy taffifs:-

Want to use power at peak times ££££££

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Err ...

>> The power company can't force you to give them control over it.

Wrong.

If they come along and tell you they are going to change the meter, your choices are to :

a) let them

b) let them disconnect you from the supply

And someone else questioned the ability to remotely turn off supplies. It is my understanding that this is one of the key parts of many smart meters, so whilst it may not be mentioned, there's a good chance it will be there.

When you hear of large companies getting huge fines for their poor customer service, and the legendary billing cock-ups, the bet shouldn't be on whether there's an erroneous disconnection but when.

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Re: Err

The original remark was about someone coming home to discover that the power company had turned off their freezer. No law has been passed mandating that all freezers should be remotely controllable, nor that the power company has a right to enter your home to upgrade your freezer.

The meter has always been the property of the power company. It is therefore uncontroversial that they have a right to maintain or upgrade it. Everything downstream of the meter belongs to you and it remains your decision whether you buy remotely controllable devices and whether you enable that feature when you get it home.

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Anonymous Coward

Wouldn't it be like it is now

If you want 99.9% uptime you pay the current retail price, or you get a supply that can be interrupted for far less money.

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@Andrew 87

Not paid your bill = Power off

Well, I thought this was the girst of the essence of the thing all along. And I'm sure it happens in pre-paid meters (yes, even with the meagre "emergency credit").

And yes, almost all smart meters (and plenty of dumb ones too) have integrated disconnect breakers.

But these relate to the entire supply, not individual appliances...

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@Ken Hagan

"...your decision whether you buy remotely controllable devices..."

The problem with that is, once the new infrastructure is in place, we will start to see more and more "remote-control-compatible" (RCC) devices in the stores, which will edge out and ultimately replace the old ones. A good example is CRT monitors - you try and buy one now. They're only available in specialist shops and they now cost an arm and a leg. Eventually you won't be able to buy them at all. Things like freezers and washing machines will go the same way - all new available models will come with RCC built in.

It doesn't even have to be legislated: the common interests of the corporations and governments in micromanaging our private lives will simply see the RCC devices replace non-RCC ones on the shop shelves until you have no choice left once your old one fails.

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@Steven Roper

It's still our decision whether we let the power company play with the controls and if they want to play with my freezer they'll have to bribe either me or my MP.

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Unhappy

Scary...

Frankly, these smart meters, and their alleged capabilities, are starting to scare me...

Firstly, some petty crook at HQ can deduce exactly when the house is empty - and send his mates round with a van.

Secondly, some petty perv at HQ can guess when daughter comes home from school (10kW spike from the shower).

Thirdly, some senior crook at HQ can use flexible charging to make sure I'm only offered affordable power when I'm out, and max-priced power when I'm in.

Fourthly, some other senior crook at HQ can switch off all my appliances (or even all power to my home) on a whim.

Fifthly, never again will we have the slightest clue how much our energy will cost us in the month/year ahead cos they'll be changing the price on a minute by minute basis.

Sixthly.....

I'm not paranoid, but they ARE out to get me!

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RE: I'm not paranoid

I'm sure you're not, but I'd love to know what energy company you're with and what they've done in the past to make suspicions like that reasonable.

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@AC

>>"Firstly, some petty crook at HQ can deduce exactly when the house is empty - and send his mates round with a van."

Sure, since anyone and everyone working for the electricity company will have free and unmonitored access not only to raw meter data, but to related address details, etc.

And the employees will necessarily be less trustworthy then people currently working at ISPs or phone / mobile phone companies, postal workers, etc, who also potentially have information about when houses seem to be unoccupied.

>>"Secondly, some petty perv at HQ can guess when daughter comes home from school (10kW spike from the shower)."

Sorry to puncture your bubble, but if someone already knows that you have a school-age daughter, wouldn't they already be able to make a pretty good guess about when she'll be coming home from school, given even just the common knowledge that schools tend to finish about the same time?

And at least, unlike hundreds/thousands of people within walking distance of your house, someone in electricity HQ probably won't know whether your daughter is stunningly attractive and devoted to personal grooming, or a right minger who's so lardy it takes her ten minutes in the shower to get wet all over.

If you're seriously worried about someone miles away /potentially/ knowing less about your family than almost anyone in your neighbourhood who's even slightly interested in you, that does seem like an odd set of priorities.

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Anonymous Coward

@John Smith 19

Go on then tell us how would hack one of these meters? Would love to know.

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Boffin

IOactive broke a US meter

http://www.ioactive.com/pdfs/InfosecurityEurope10SmartGrid.pdf

The above evil nasty pdf gives some overview to flaws that IOactive found in US smart meters, You might also like to google for "Travis Goodspeed" for some very neighborly information on zigbee and other small micro-controller security.

That would be a good place to start looking to hack these things,

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This post has been deleted by its author

FAIL

I'll be happy to have one....

...on the condition and can have a least one summer without power cuts every few f**king weeks.

Granted, I do live in the middle of nowhere, a village a few miles from Birmingham!

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FAIL

Dammit! No need for the apostrophe in "leccy"

You guys keep needlessly prepending the slang word "leccy" with an apostrophe, when it shouldn't have one (the word Eleccy does not exist). If you're treating it as being a contraction (like 'ello), then it would be 'lec'c'y, but that's clearly daft.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Tony Humphries

I'd pay for this, assuming that the billing format changed.

If we got to a point where we had demand based pricing, and my intelli-mete- thing told me what the price of the minute/hour was, I'd better be able to judge when to put the washer on.

That said, it would spark misery for millions of people in flats as everyone starts putting their washes on at 3 in the morning.

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I can't think of no stinking title

Really?

You do know that p3ak rate costs will be when there is any major sporting event being televised, world cup, when the adverts come on in popular soaps etc etc.

This is not about providing the consumer with cheaper electricity, it is about providing the electricity providers with more profits.

To add insult to injury they are also going to charge us extra so that the consumer pays for the costs involved in enabling them to bill us more.

No wonder the power companies are in a rush to get the bloody things installed.

Wonder what will hapen if my meter accidently gets covered in tinfoil?

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Happy

Already happenning across the Channel..

....That said, it would spark misery for millions of people in flats as everyone starts putting their washes on at 3 in the morning.......

Washers go on at the night time for cheap rate ..(the ex pats switch on Eastenders repeats on the Freesat so the cockney shouting drowns out the noise of the machines... or else it's down to the Cafe for Karaoke... same result...)

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