In what is said to be the first agreement of its kind in the country, BT and Ericsson have announced a multimillion-pound joint partnership to provide commercial 5G private networks for the UK market, enabling the telco to sell next-generation mobile network technology products to businesses and organisations in sectors such as manufacturing, defence, education, retail, healthcare, transport and logistics.
BT regards the increasingly popular private networks as suitable for a range of uses, particularly in environments such as factories, education campuses and other large sites where security and ultra-low latency connectivity are important. It said such networks can support applications and internet of things (IoT) capabilities to improve productivity, optimise operations and drive cost savings, such as asset tracking, predictive maintenance, connected sensors, real-time data processing, automation and robotics.
BT also cited a study from MarketResearch.com that predicted 5G private networks will grow at an average rate of 40% a year between 2021 and 2028, by which time it said the market will be worth $14bn (£10.7bn). Both BT and Ericsson believe there is significant demand from UK businesses looking to take advantage of the benefits the new technology can provide.
“This UK-first we have signed with Ericsson is a huge milestone and will play a major role in enabling businesses’ transformation, ushering in a new era of hyper-connected spaces,” said Marc Overton, BT’s managing director for Division X, Enterprise.
“We have combined our skill and expertise at building converged fixed and mobile networks with Ericsson’s leading, sustainable and secure 5G network equipment, to offer a pioneering new proposition that will be attractive to many industries. 5G private networks will also support smart factory processes and the advancement of Industry 4.0, which can realise significant cost savings and efficiencies for manufacturers.
“Unlike a public network, a private 5G network can be configured to a specific business’s needs, as well as by individual site or location. They also provide the foundation to overlay other innovative technologies such as IoT, AI [artificial intelligence], VR and AR [virtual and augmented reality], opening up a multitude of possibilities.”
Katherine Ainley, CEO at Ericsson UK & Ireland, added: “This ground-breaking agreement with BT means we are together taking a leading role in ensuring 5G has a transformative impact for the UK. The high-quality, fast and secure connectivity provided by Ericsson Private 5G can help organisations make all-important efficiency gains that can create safer, more productive and sustainable business operations and help the country build global leaders in the industries and technologies of the future.”
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BT and Ericsson have already worked together on several major projects incorporating private 5G networks, including Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland, which is accelerating its ambition to become the world’s best regional smart port. The partners have installed a 5G private network across 35 acres of operational port, which is helping 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.
“With activity on that scale, you need smart technology that can really make a difference,” said Overton. “And that’s what our standalone private 5G network is enabling at the port. We are now into phase two of the project and this includes various use cases, such as teleoperation of heavy plant machinery, artificial reality for remote maintenance, as well as enhanced video AI analytics and the use of drones for surveillance and inspections.”
The partnership is also exploring how 5G and other emerging technologies such as AI, 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.
“Throughout 2021 and to the end of 2022, we will have completed the implementation of both public and private 5G networks,” said Mike Dawson, corporate services director, Belfast Harbour Commissioners. “These are the foundations for several smart and green port initiatives, including CCTV cameras, air quality monitors, drones, Mi-Fi units to maximise operational efficiencies and a digital twin. The technologies have supported our data collection on the movement of people and things through our road traffic screens, wayfinding app and a community app for traffic.”