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Sunderland to deploy city-owned 5G network

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 25 Oct 2021
  • Last modified 25 Oct 2021
By Sarah Wray

Sunderland in the North East of England has announced a new partnership to deploy a private 5G network for business and public services applications.

Sunderland City Council has awarded a 20-year strategic partnership to BAI Communications to design, build and operate digital infrastructure including Wi-Fi, LoRaWan (long-range wide area network) and a private 5G small cell network.

A ‘backbone’ of 5G connectivity, based on a neutral host model, will be established in the city by summer 2022. Neutral host infrastructure can support multiple operators rather than them each building their own networks.

Shared investment

The council and BAI Communications are investing an equal initial sum of capital and will share revenue. The total contract value over the term is estimated at £80 million (US$110 million).

The city is making assets such as street furniture and buildings available for telecom equipment and infrastructure. It believes the advanced network can stimulate economic growth, transform public service delivery, health and education, and reduce the digital divide.

“We want to be at the forefront of this agenda rather than wait for the mobile network operators to decide when to invest in our city so that we can begin to realise the significant social and economic benefits as soon as possible,” Patrick Melia, Chief Executive, Sunderland City Council, told Cities Today. “Our initial investment to build the infrastructure will complement the mobile network operators’ strategies and facilitate the operators in future to deploy at scale in Sunderland.”

5G payoff

Sunderland sees particular opportunities for the new connectivity in areas such as social care to support independent living; education to better enable online and remote learning and increase digital inclusion; and manufacturing and logistics. With partners, the city is trialling autonomous heavy goods vehicles for the last-mile transfer of goods between the Nissan supply chain and the Sunderland Nissan car manufacturing plant.

BAI Communications said that initially the network will be private, so dedicated SIM cards will be used to access it. Over time, the partners will be assessing new use cases and rolling out capabilities to specific market sectors and geographies.

Andrew Conway, Director of Solutions, Innovation and Technology at BAI Communications, told Cities Today:

“In the manufacturing space, there is great demand and a lot of use cases for 5G. Manufacturers want low latency services that allow real-time responsiveness, meaning faster manufacturing with greater precision. 5G is vital in rolling out smart factories that will generate greater innovation and unlock benefits of Industry 4.0.”

He added: “The technology and network that we are installing will allow us to scale up existing trials and provide more 5G private networks to enterprises, such as at the port or university, that will all be connected back to 5G fabric.”

The agreement follows BAI’s recent announcement of a 20-year deal with Transport for London (TfL) to enable 4G mobile coverage across the whole Tube network by the end of 2024 as well as expanding fibre.

Conway said there is a growing demand for commercial models to help public bodies turn their physical assets into digital infrastructure and enable smart city use cases such as waste management, air quality monitoring and more.

The Sunderland initiative is supported by the North East Local Enterprise Partnership and the government’s Getting Building Fund.

Sunderland was named UK Smart City of the Year in 2020 and Connected Britain Digital Council of the Year 2021.

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