Why the UK government hates the IoT.

  • July 9, 2020
  • Steve Rogerson

In his latest blog, IMC executive editor Steve Rogerson looks at the UK government’s problems with smart meters and track-and-trace apps.

The UK government and the IoT are not getting on well. Even before the current pandemic, its ambitious plans for a smart meter rollout were already far behind schedule and, of course, the lockdown ground the whole process to a halt.

On top of that is the pandemic itself. The government with gusto promised that the UK would have a world-beating track-and-trace app by mid-May. We are now in July and nobody is expecting it to happen this year.

So, what went wrong with both these plans and is there anything the industry can learn?

Let’s start with looking at the smart meter situation.

The original plan when the rollout started in 2016 was for them to be installed in every home by the end of 2020. Last year, the government admitted failure on this and extended the deadline to 2024.

By March this year, only 19.5 million of the estimated 53 million needed were in place, and then lockdown happened.

The whole process has been besieged with technical problems, and the early meters were tied into a single electricity supplier. So, if you changed supplier – the UK government urges us to shop around – then the smart meter reverts to being a stupid one. The later meters being installed do not have this flaw, but only just over four million of them are in place.

From a consumer point of view, I have asked my local energy supplier – Robin Hood Energy (I do live in Nottingham) – multiple times for smart meters for both gas and electricity and have been met with a wall of silence.

The track-and-trace app for Covid-19 should have been an easier task for the government, after all tech giants Apple and Google were developing one for just that purpose. But the UK government knew better and set out to design its own app, one that had serious privacy concerns from the very start.

The Isle of Wight was chosen as the ideal place to test this so-called world-beater and trials started with much publicity, then everything went mysteriously quiet. The reason was it didn’t work properly.

The government is now doing what is should have done in the first place and joining the Apple-Google project, which does not have the privacy problems but won’t be ready till winter. I can’t be the only one hoping we will all be through this by then.

In conclusion, it seems that in both these cases promises were made without any real thought as to how possible it would be to implement them. The result was a reality that fell way behind expectations. However, a little bit of thought in the beginning, talking with the experts and people who have to make these promises happen, would have resulted in a far more realistic forecast.

Most people in industry appear to know this already and don’t promise what they can’t deliver. True, it is fine to set ambitious goals, but make them realistic goals. In that, maybe there is nothing industry can lean from governments, but a lot that governments – the UK is not the only one guilty of this – can learn from industry. Perhaps they should talk.