Virgin Media O2 lands sweet private network deal

Yanitsa Boyadzhieva
By Yanitsa Boyadzhieva

Jan 25, 2022

  • The private wireless networks sector continues its hot streak
  • Virgin Media O2’s business division seals a multi-million partnership with British Sugar and Nokia
  • The aim is to introduce Industry 4.0 digital manufacturing processes to multiple sites
  • The dedicated private network will connect IoT devices and enable the use of AI for improved efficiency, security and health on site

There’s been a steady stream of private network announcements and initiatives this week, with the icing on the cake coming courtesy of Virgin Media O2 Business, which has landed a deal to provide a dedicated 4G/LTE mobile network across multiple sites for British Sugar.

The move is tipped as a “first-of-its-kind” multi-site custom-built network launch and is boosted by a “multi-million-pound” seven-year tie-up between the operator’s business unit, British Sugar and strategic technology partner Nokia.

While Virgin Media O2 declined to disclose the exact value of the ambitious move, a representative told TelecomTV the operator will be tasked with providing “ongoing strategic consultation and support in developing smart factory use cases”, while Nokia will act as a provider of the underlying “low latency, ultra-reliable and secure private mobile network infrastructure”.

The private network has been already launched in British Sugar’s site in Wissington, Norfolk, and was already bearing fruit, the operator said in a statement.

Time savings were noted across numerous areas, including new plant commissioning, plant testing and day-to-day diagnostic processes, Programme Manager at British Sugar Nick Smalley explained.

Essentially, the custom-built network aims to bring a “factories of the future” upgrade to the sugar company’s four sites in the UK. To do so, it is set to connect multiple Internet of Things (IoT) devices and enable artificial intelligence (AI), automated production lines, robotics and drones to be involved in the manufacturing process.

AI will be used for monitoring operations in real time, and predicting maintenance and probable downtime. This will result in less disruption and wastage, and has the potential to deliver cost and energy consumption savings.

Virgin Media O2 also touts benefits from the private network around enhanced security and control, seamless high-bandwidth connectivity and improved health and safety on site.

The current plan envisions the creation of more than 15 digital manufacturing use cases, but this number can grow as the network will be easily upgradable to 5G when British Sugar decides to implement more complex processes which will require next-generation capabilities, such as using robotics, driverless ground vehicles and connected drones.

Jo Bertram, Managing Director at Virgin Media O2 Business, explained private networks 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”, she added.

The telecoms sector is awash with private wireless network announcements right now. Just today, Nokia announced a deal with French company Alstom to deploy an LTE/4.9G private wireless network along a high-speed commuter rail network in India; and it unveiled it will build a 5G private wireless network for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in Paris this October.

And yesterday, Australian operator Telstra tapped a partnership with Ericsson for the deployment of an on-premise dedicated 5G network for enterprise, while Germany and France unveiled a €17.7 million combined investment on four projects that develop private wireless network applications.

Private networks also looks likely to be one of the hot topics at the upcoming MWC22 show in Barcelona: See SCOPE – the five hot trends for MWC22.

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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