Belfast Harbour steams ahead to UK and Ireland’s first 5G private network for ports

5G private network accelerates Belfast Harbour’s ambition to become the world’s best regional smart port, stimulating innovation across transport, logistics, public safety, physical security and sustainability

BT and Belfast Harbour are to build a state-of-the-art 5G ecosystem within the port to provide a basis to deliver a series of 5G-led innovations to accelerate the harbour’s digital transformation and help deliver its smart port strategic ambitions.  

Belfast Harbour is a key gateway to trade and a significant contributor to the regional economy. Every year, more than 1.75 million people and over 500,000 freight vehicles arrive and depart through the port, while 24 million tonnes of goods are managed and carried by ferries, container ships and general cargo vessels.

Belfast was one of the first cities to be given access to BT’s public 5G network and the Harbour Company has been a partner of the telco since November 2018, using the next-generation infrastructure to overcome inefficiencies in the management of its estate, such as those encountered by maintenance workers.

In October 2019, BT revealed how it was working with Belfast Harbour to use 5G technologies to support industrial applications. With partner Ubimax, BT’s technology was helping the harbour to inspect cranes and enable field workers to receive step-by-step maintenance guidance and remote support through video collaboration with a remote expert, via an application server in the cloud.

Belfast Harbour also highlighted that it was using VRtuoso virtual reality technology over 5G to create an immersive experience, allowing users to be connected into the same real-time, virtual presentation or training event. This enabled Belfast Harbour to take its estate to customers, enabling them to experience the environment and services it offers.

The new deployment is intended to allow the harbour to drive operational efficiencies and accelerate its digital transformation through optimising processes across transport, logistics, supply chain and shipping, as well as boosting productivity through the smooth running of the port’s operations. The partnership will also explore how 5G and other emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), the internet of things (IoT) and connected autonomous vehicles can be used together to enhance public safety, physical security and address climate change across the port and other parts of Belfast city.

For example, the partnership will explore how 5G-led capabilities can help Belfast Harbour to ensure a safe and secure environment for businesses, employees and the wider public. The two organisations will work on improved productivity and safety measures by enabling 5G remote-controlled inspection technology to reduce the need for staff to work at height.

Meanwhile, the roll-out of 5G-enabled sensors to monitor air quality and other environmental factors will support Belfast Harbour and the wider city in achieving its green recovery and sustainability ambitions.

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“One of Belfast Harbour’s key strategic ambitions is to become a smart port that engages creatively and effectively with customers, visitors and employees,” said Joe O’Neill, chief executive of Belfast Harbour. “We are delighted that this private network is a first for the UK and Ireland. The smooth and efficient running of our port logistics network relies on the accurate tracking and integration of data gathered from multiple sources. 

“We believe the increased capabilities of 5G technology can have a beneficial effect on our operations, helping us, for example, to capture, process and interpret data in real time and giving insights that will speed decision-making, better manage vehicle traffic through our harbour estate and improve productivity across our operations and services.”

As part of the deployment, BT will build and manage a live 5G private network designed to achieve what it says will be “the highest levels” of ultra-fast mobile connectivity, coverage, reliability and security across the port’s main operational areas. The network will aim to enhance safety, security and sustainability across the harbour estate and is expected to go live across large parts of the 2,000-acre site early next year.

“Our UK-first 5G trial with Belfast Harbour last year was a powerful illustration of how 5G-led technology can transform port operations, propel the success of local businesses and drive economic growth,” said Gerry McQuade, CEO of BT’s Enterprise unit. “Today’s deal with Belfast Harbour will make these benefits a reality, with the creation of a sophisticated digital ecosystem comprising 5G, AI, IoT and connected vehicles. This will act as a springboard for Belfast Harbour to achieve its ambition to be the world’s best regional smart port and an innovation hub for the region.

“Ports are fundamental to the UK economy, and Belfast Harbour is responsible for roughly two-thirds of Northern Ireland’s trade. With the rising demands on transport and logistics, and the growing need for operations to be safe, secure and sustainable, we are excited to work with Belfast Harbour as its technology partner, building 5G-led innovations to unlock the productivity benefits for the port and contribute to the region’s green recovery ambitions.”

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