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Virgin Media O2 claims UK 5G SA private network first

Low-cost plug-and-play private network launched to unlock connectivity for industries whenever and wherever they need it

The increased roll-out of 5G infrastructures across the world has led to the subsequent demand for private networks whose value to industries of varying form has now well been proven, and in an evolution of what is still a very nascent market, Virgin Media O2 Business (VMO2B) is claiming a first in the UK with a portable commercial 5G standalone (SA) private network (PN).

Once plugged in, the portable network – said to be only slightly larger than a carry-on airline bag – is designed to enable companies to immediately access 5G connectivity at the flick of a switch, without the time and expense of building an entire network. VMO2B believes that with a network that can be easily used and activated, not just by telecoms engineers, the product enables businesses of all sizes to access private connectivity. This, said the company, means organisations from tech startups to large companies will be able to tap into a secure 5G network quickly, and in a way that fits their needs.

Since the first trials of the portable offering, VMO2B has developed and deployed two 5G SA PN platforms. Wayra, the innovation arm of global telco Telefónica, was home to the first trial of the product, and has been using the network since last summer, enabling customers and small businesses to experience 5G SA-enabled applications first hand.

Startups based in Wayra’s London office using the offering include Mobilus Labs, an organisation using advanced voice technology to enable industrial teams to communicate in environments with extreme noise. To ensure safe interactions between people and devices on sites like construction, manufacturing and healthcare locations, Mobilus Labs requires fast internet speeds and secure connections which private 5G networks can provide. Further trials with companies offering products ranging from virtual reality (VR) applications to internet of things (IoT) services are said to have already shown benefits including high reliability, enhanced data security and ultra-low latency.

The applications and features are activated using Nokia Digital Automation Cloud and Nokia MX Industrial Edge, which allows organisations like Mobilus Labs to safely support mission-critical applications. VMO2B said the integration makes it the UK’s first telco to incorporate MXIE into its private wireless offering. With on-premise edge cloud capabilities, enterprises can process data at the source in real time, meaning business-critical applications do not need to communicate back to an application in the public cloud.

This is said to remove the complexity and economic hurdles typically associated with mission-critical networking, meaning the offering can support digital transformation for businesses across sectors including manufacturing, construction and healthcare.

“At Mobilus Labs, we are making industrial teams more connected through clear voice communications,” said Mobilus Labs chief technology officer Tony Blackburn. “The portable 5G standalone private network will unlock access to super-fast internet connectivity across industrial sites. Having trialled Virgin Media O2 Business’s solution, we believe it will enable mobiTALK, our push-to-talk smart phone application, to offer a seamless customer experience.”

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Virgin Media O2 Business managing director Jo Bertram added: “Britain is a hub for innovation, so it’s crucial that companies operating here can access the connectivity needed to create new experiences for customers. From startups to large enterprises, our latest network solution will enable 5G trials and deployment without the time or cost of building a whole network. Removing barriers, like location and cost, to ensure that businesses get the connection they need.”

Wayra UK managing director Bruno Moraes said: “Reliable, fast, precise, on-demand connectivity is a must for all businesses, especially those in the most challenging environments, such as hospitals and construction sites.

“This plug-and-play private network unlocks reliable and low-cost connectivity for those industries whenever and wherever they need it, which is game-changing. In partnership with Virgin Media O2, we are collaborating with corporate customers and startups in these areas to test this network and build new products on the foundation of new levels of connectivity.”

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