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BT partners with Ericsson on private 5G

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BT and Ericsson have agreed a multi-million-pound joint partnership to build commercial private 5G networks for businesses across the UK.

The venture is described as the first of its kind in the UK and will look to accelerate the adoption of private cellular technology in a range of industries, including education, retail, healthcare, transport and logistics industries and beyond.

While many businesses will use public 5G network for their needs, a private equivalent provides dedicated access to a specific customer, using either licensed, unlicensed, or shared spectrum, with no resources shared by any third party.

Private 4G and 5G

By pursuing this route, customers can define the scale, pace of rollout, and technology used, while guaranteeing a certain level of performance for their applications. Private networks can be built with or without the assistance of a traditional mobile operator, with many IT firms and telecoms equipment manufacturers now selling products and services directly to end users.

BT and Ericsson’s partnership combines each company’s respective strengths to deliver the best of all worlds. Specifically, BT has experience of working directly with businesses and of converging fixed and mobile networks, while Ericsson is one of the leading manufacturers of 5G technology.

While many private cellular networks are powered by 4G, 5G offers significant advances in speed, capacity, and latency. This enhances coverage and allows mission-critical applications that require high performance, reliability connectivity and real-time data to be powered by a mobile network for the first time.

The two companies have already worked together on several projects, including a smart port environment at Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland.

The deal reflects Ericsson’s desire to secure more of the enterprise market and BT’s ambition to increase revenues through new technologies. It has committed to invest £100 million over the next three years in its ‘Division X’ unit to accelerate the development of services that combine emerging technologies like 5G, IoT, edge computing and artificial intelligence (AI).  

“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,” said Marc Overton, BT Division X managing director. “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.

“They also provide the foundation to overlay other innovative technologies such as IoT, AI, VR and AR, opening up a multitude of possibilities.”

“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,” added Katherine Ainley, CEO Ericsson UK & Ireland.

A study by IDC says that growing awareness and emerging use cases for private cellular networks is driving the uptake, with 5G starting to become a factor in a market that is still driven by the LTE standard. Accordingly, the market for private 4G and 5G infrastructure will surge from $1.7 billion in 2021 to $8.3 billion by 2026 – an annual growth rate of 35.7%.

Steve McCaskill

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.