Virgin Media O2 has switched on the UK’s first multi-site private mobile network, delivering dedicated 4G connectivity across three of British Sugar’s manufacturing sites.
A private cellular network provides dedicated access to a specific customer, using either licensed, unlicensed or shared spectrum, with no resources shared by any third party.
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. Cellular technology also offers significant security advantages over other networking technologies.
British Sugar wants to transform its three sites in Norfolk, Suffolk and Nottinghamshire into smart factories and believes a private network will make this possible. Other communications standards such as Wi-Fi are an issue because of the highly metallic factory environment and the need for both indoor and outdoor coverage.
“Announcing the switch-on of the first multi-site private mobile network is a huge milestone for us at Virgin Media O2 Business, but it’s also a significant step for British manufacturing as a whole – taking us that bit closer to Industry 4.0, and all the benefits this offers,” declared Jo Bertram, Managing Director, at Virgin Media O2 Business.
“Private networks like these are a big part of building the connected factories of the future, so British manufacturing can keep pace with the rest of the world. By continuing to invest in smart tech, connectivity and innovation – and with a 5G upgrade in the plans – British Sugar is blazing a trail for the industry.”
Specifically, the company plans to adopt technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and drones. The combination of these innovations will allow the company automate production lines, intelligently monitor operations, predict problems before they arise, and improve health and safety. All of this will reduce disruption and waste, and deliver cost and energy savings.
The network is upgradable to 5G and British Sugar is already looking at how the ultra-low latency and ultra-fast speeds can be used to enhance its smart factory vision. 5G would allow the company to deploy driverless vehicles and connected drones that could monitor tall buildings like silos.
“We have been very pleased to work with Virgin Media O2 Business to install and launch our private mobile networks – the first of which is now live at our Wissington site in Norfolk,” said This work will help us progress in our ‘Factories of the Future’ project, using the latest technology to ensure that our sites are operating as efficiently as possible.”
Demand for private cellular networking equipment to support mission critical applications will see the market reach $5.7 billion by 2024, according to a new study by IDC, while more than half of CIOs (51%) surveyed in a separate report say they plan to deploy a private 5G network within the next two years.
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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.