ScottishPower is embarking on a 5,000 smart electricity meter trial in "hard to reach" areas, ahead of a planned UK-wide roll-out.

ScottishPower is using meters from SmartReach, the collaboration between Arqiva, BT, BAE Systems Detica and Sensus, to test meters in rural areas around Lochwinnoch and dense urban areas in central Glasgow.

The SmartReach system will be used to test the suitability of a single, long-range radio-based communications network for reading and managing electricity meters wherever they are located.

Lochwinnoch is only 20 miles from Glasgow but is the type of rural location that alternative communications networks find hard to reach, said ScottishPower. Densely populated Glasgow presents a different kind of communications challenge, said the utility provider, with meters located deep inside buildings, including basements.

Andrew Ward, ScottishPower operations director, said: “This trial of long-range radio with SmartReach will build on the positive experience of our trial in Ipswich to help us to understand how “hard to reach” locations can be accessed.”

For the trial, SmartReach is using Arqiva’s existing tower infrastructure, Sensus’ FlexNet smart metering communications system and smart meters from EDMI.

The technology behind SmartReach is deployed at 10 million smart meter and grid end points in the US, where they are connected to long-range radio based networks from Sensus. These meters are installed in various locations including hard to reach places like meter pits, cellars and basements.

Few European countries have widely deployed smart meters in homes and a number of them aren't expected to make much progress over the next three years, according to research - which questioned how quickly the UK will reach its goals.

Smart meter technology provider Sentec used data from IMS Research, on the progress of smart meter deployments in 2011 and predictions for the state of play by 2015.

Any progress in the UK will depend on whether the UK government goes ahead with a plan to spend around £11.7 billion on a smart metering programme.

Some critics of the government scheme say the money would be better spent elsewhere and that smart meters will not bring customers' bills down or encourage them to use less energy - two stated targets of the smart meter roll-out. Instead, critics say, the programme is a subsidy to the utility companies.