Trilliant will help British Gas link up about 17 million new smart meters – not with its wireless mesh networking technology, but with software to manage other companies' networked devices.

The Redwood City, Calif.-based company announced Tuesday that it would provide its UnitySuite "head-end software" to the British electricity and gas provider.

That software, in turn, will be used by British Gas to control a host of devices – smart meters, home energy displays, smart thermostats and the like – from different vendors using different communications networks, Eric Miller, Trilliant's chief solutions officer, said (see Green Light post).

At this point, British Gas hasn't decided to use devices using Trilliant's SecureMesh radios, which use a version of the 802.15.4 wireless standard that underlies ZigBee to let smart meters and other devices communicate, Miller said.

That's not the typical way of doing business for Trilliant, which usually deploys UnitySuite to support its own networking gear, though it does support multiple vendors' gear in other deployments, he said. The company has shipped more than a million smart meters and other devices using its technology for projects with about 200 utilities, including  Ontario, Canada's Hydro One. 

But the software-only deal works for British Gas, since it operates in the U.K.'s deregulated energy market where customers are free to switch retail providers – and the devices that give them more information and control over their energy use – more frequently than is common in the United States, Miller said.

"Over here, you'd typically see one head-end system per network," he said. But in the U.K., "who puts in the network, and what network it is, potentially changes over time," he said. For example, Trilliant supports some meters that use SMS text messaging protocol, he said.

Trilliant has raised about $100 million from investors including Mission Point Capital Partners and Zouk Ventures to support the push of its technology into the smart meter space, where it competes with systems from smart meter makers themselves, as well as newer companies like Silver Spring Networks (see Green Light post).

Trilliant has also acquired SkyPilot Networks, which has developed a long-range, WiFi-based broadband wireless mesh technology that could serve as a "backhaul" network to complement the shorter range SecureMesh (see Trilliant Buys SkyPilot for End-to-End Smart Grid Communications).

But the work of reading meters over a variety of networks, both public and private, is actually the bread and butter of the company over the 20 years it's been in business, Miller noted.

"We saw it as consistent with our strategy, which is, we are a solution provider, not a hardware company," he said.

The British Gas deal is also a nice entrée into the European smart grid market in support of a planned 17-million smart meter deployment, larger than any single smart meter deployment in North America to date, he noted.

Clint Wheelock, managing director at Pike Research, saw it as a good move for Trilliant to get into the European market, despite the software-only nature of the deal.

"There are plans for a national unified communications network in the U.K. in several years' time, and Trilliant feels that this contract win will put them in a good position to bid for that business when the time comes," Wheelock said in an email. Meter data management software maker eMeter is among the contenders for managing that unified network (see Green Light post).

"Providing networking for British Gas was not really an option in this case, as they are planning to use capacity on public wireless networks for now," Wheelock added. Using cellular networks to link smart meters is more common in Europe, but is being promoted in the United States by a number of telecoms, as well as by Jackson, Miss.-based SmartSynch (see Sprint Stakes Smart Grid Claim and Your Electrical Meter Becomes a Cell Phone).

This isn't Trilliant's first move into the European smart meter market. In May it announced it was piloting its SecureMesh technology with Ireland's national utility, the Electricity Supply Board, in a multi-vendor test that could lead to deployment in the utility's €1 billion ($1.48 billion) plan to bring smart meters to its customers (see Green Light post).

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