BT and Ericsson bring private 5G to another port

Private network partners BT and Ericsson announced their second major contract for a European port, inking a deal to build a 4G/5G network in the U.K.’s Port of Tyne just a few months after building a private network in Ireland’s Belfast Harbour.

The Port of Tyne is located on the North Sea, near Sunderland, which is building its own 5G network to support smart city services. The port covers 650 acres, including 200 acres of deep-water quayside space which has yet to be occupied. The private network is meant to cover the entire port.

Port of Tyne CEO Mike Beeton said in a statement the port already has a wide range of use cases developed for implementation and testing on the new network. At launch the port expects to implement optical character recognition software that will leverage the 5G network to optimize container tracking. In addition, members of Beeton’s team want to test driverless vehicles and a clean energy testbed that can use 5G to support energy management algorithms and real-time simulation. 

Private 5G networks are well-suited for maritime ports because these logistics hubs need to connect equipment and people over distances that are typically greater than Wi-Fi can cover. Also, most of the activity in the area is related to the port, making it easier for carriers to devote spectrum to the private network. Finally, 5G can support driverless trucks, and ports are locations in which automated guided vehicles (AGVs) will be useful and practical. Goods are transported over predictable, repeatable routes with relatively low levels of interfering traffic.

In addition, the private 5G business case may be stronger for ports than for some other industry verticals. Ports lease their space to various terminal operating companies, and a secure, reliable network to connect equipment can be a selling point. Manufacturers may look to private 5G to increase efficiencies and ultimately cut costs, and healthcare and educational facilities may invest in private wireless to deliver better user experiences, but ports can make the case that private 5G will grow top line revenue. 

Last year, Verizon announced a contract to build a private network at the U.K. Port of Southampton in partnership with Nokia. Verizon does not own spectrum in the U.K., but will manage the network for the port. 

IoT focus in Tyne

At the Port of Tyne, internet of things applications will be a major focus for the private wireless network, according to BT’s Ashish Gupta, MD for corporate and public sector. 

“By leveraging the high bandwidth, low latency networks we can use surveillance cameras, advanced analytics and artificial intelligence to check for damage to containers for example. We can also use IoT sensors to deliver benefits in the use of heavy plant and machinery,” Gupta said in a statement. ““The secure network we have installed with Ericsson, along with our fixed fiber infrastructure, will provide the foundation to revolutionise many operations across the site.”

The companies said the network will be fed by optical fiber and coaxial cable. The infrastructure will be part of the Port of Tyne’s 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub.

BT said it will use bands N77 (3.84GHz - 4.1GHz) and N78 for the Port of Tyne, combining its own licensed spectrum with shared access spectrum. The network will support both 4G and 5G at launch and will have a dedicated core, hosted onsite. 

Norway’s state-owned energy company Equinor will also use the private network at the Port of Tyne. The firm wants to use the port’s 5G network to support operations of its largest offshore wind farm at Dogger Bank, about 60 miles off the coast of England.