The potentially lucrative smart meter market has seen a new competitor enter the fray, after BT said it was looking for large contracts.

Smart meters are set to be installed in 26 million UK homes by 2020. They contain software to send and receive data from the electric grid, and aim to improve energy efficiency and enable the exact measurement of energy usage. They will also allow the use of smart appliances that can switch themselves off when not in use.

The BT consortium, also consisting of technology company Detica and media business Arqiva, will today make a pitch to provide a national system. A full proposal will be launched in September.

BT will go head-to-head with Vodafone and Telefonica, both of which have already made their presence in the market clear. Vodafone has a large contract with energy supplier Centrica, under which 80,000 smart meters have been installed so far at the homes of UK customers.

Announcing the news at the weekend, BT said that contracts with utility firms could be worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

CIO 100 listed BT's proposal involves sending the data wirelessly to suppliers, through a "long range radio" setup. The company said this was superior to mobile phone networks because its low frequency radio spectrum is effective at reaching meters in difficult places such as basements.

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"It is vital that any solution is designed for ubiquitous coverage of homes and is thoroughly secure and resilient," said Olivia Garfield, BT strategy director. "We believe that long range radio is the only technology to offer nationwide coverage."

BT said it had spent 18 months analysing different communications options. The fact that radio operates on a dedicated spectrum also provided support for its choice.

The company is proposing the use of its own IT and telecoms services, as well as Arqiva's radio spectrum and infrastructure, and Detica's information security services. The providers will also work with smart meter radio specialist Sensus.

Nationally, the smart meter scheme is aimed at delivering £14.6 billion of benefits by 2020, including £6.3 billion savings for suppliers through avoided meter reading, and £4.6 billion savings for consumers through reduced energy usage.