What the Smart Metering Debacle tells us about the reality of the Irish Backstop

Last week, the UK Government finally admitted the obvious, presumably in the hope that the announcement would be lost in the Brexit noise, which is that the GB Smart Metering Programme rollout has been delayed by four years to 2024.  For those who don’t know the history, back in 2011, the Government announced that it was instigating a smart metering programme which would see 53 million domestic smart meters installed by the end of 2019.  We’re approaching that date and the latest figures show that only 2 million compliant SMETS2 meters have been installed.  Despite many of us having pointed out the issues for years, it’s only now that reality has dawned on our ministers, who have set a new target of 2024.  Many in the industry believe that’s equally fictional and are suggesting that 2030 is more realistic.  That would mean a total of nineteen years for a project that was originally meant to take less than seven years to complete.  Over the course of the project, costs have spiralled, although BEIS – the ministry now in charge of the project are still doing their best to dream up magic benefits, presumably because of a concern that if they revealed the full impact, any Minister in their right mind would cancel the project.

The announcement was hardly unexpected.  Along with many others, I have been critical of the project since its early days, when it became obvious that that it was being driven by ideology rather than practical requirements.  Countries such as Italy managed a national deployment in a couple of years at a fraction of the price.  The difference with the GB programme is that it was politically led, turning into the latest in a long line of Government IT disasters.  However, the announcement is timely, as it comes at the point when our current Ministers are promoting a technical solution to the Irish border as an alternative to the backstop.  If we assume that the same mistakes will occur, as they have done again and again in previous IT projects, it is unlikely that we would see anything workable in place before 2030.  More worryingly, it is likely to be hacked by organised crime well before that.

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Four Highlights from MWC2018

For anyone involved with mobile phones, networks or the IoT, the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona is the place to be in February.  Over four days, the industry reveals its latest and fanciest ideas in the ongoing evolution of mobile telephony.  It is vast.  This year around 2,300 companies were exhibiting, several with stands large enough to fit a passenger jet in; over 100,000 visitors were wandering around it, including senior politicians and royalty and the organising industry body – the GSMA (God Save Mobile Analysts) probably raked in around $100 million in revenue.  Which is more than some of the sectors it is promoting will make this year.

It’s not a show famed for radical new technology.  Unlike CES, which gives us technical wonders like the selfie stick, MWC is about gradual evolution.  But that is gradual evolution of a very, very successful industry – one that likes to take the annual opportunity to convene in Barcelona and flaunt its success.

So what was new?  For me, there were four things which stood out.  That might feel minor, but when you’re trying to predict the future, it’s difficult to judge.  These are the ripples and butterflies that could bring massive change.  No-one in the industry thought SMS and messaging would take off.  But they were happy to bet on WAP as the mobile internet, which only goes to prove you should never believe an analyst or futurologist.  So here’s my choice of four things which took my fancy.

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