Port of Tyne sets sail on private 5G-enabled ‘smart port’ operations

The Port of Tyne has been awarded a £1.159m contract with South Tyneside Council to develop its harbour-wide private 5G network.

Through use of 5G platforms, the project will look to demonstrate how better digital connectivity can help to drive growth. It will involve 5G cameras and internet of things (IoT) sensors to inspect the port estate, boosting efficiency and reducing fuel usage.

The Port of Tyne sees its mission in delivering bespoke services for the green energy sector, supporting leading companies in the automotive transition, handling specialised bulk and containerised products, alongside delivery logistics and assisting growing passenger numbers via what it says is the regionally important international passenger terminal. Overall, the port calculates that it adds £700m to the North East economy, supporting 11,000 jobs directly and indirectly as one of the UK’s largest trust ports. It’s said to be entirely self-financing and runs on a commercial basis, reinvesting all of its profits back into facilities along the River Tyne.

In June 2022, BT won the rights to install a new 5G private network, and other surveillance and smart technology, to enable the Port of Tyne to advance its ambition to become a world-class “smart port”. Building on its in-house capability – the 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub – the port implemented a BT hybrid fibre, 4G and 5G private network to build what it said would be a future-proofed digital technology infrastructure.

Digital transformation is at the heart of the port’s 2050 strategic plan. Real-time 5G connectivity means commercial information can be captured to enable data-led decision-making to drive efficiencies across the business, benefiting customers and the port’s own operations.

The funding forms part of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) 5G Innovation Regions (5GIR) £37m grant, of which the seven North East local authorities (LA7) successfully bid to receive over £3.7m to support the Port of Tyne project, and three other 5G and advanced wireless connectivity projects across the North East.

These activities support 5G and advanced wireless connectivity as key components of the regional digital strategy to build on the key strengths of the region. In addition to 5G-enabled port operations, they encompass connected intelligent transport systems; 5G-enabled event production and 360º live broadcasting; and advanced wireless sensor technology on farms.

The 5GIR project at the Port of Tyne has the official aim of “driving innovation and unlocking opportunities” for economic growth. Looking to set a precedent across the industry, it will endeavour to enable ports across the country to drive forward plans to become all-electric and reduce environmental impact, while enhancing competitiveness and improving safety.

Through a transition to a 5G hub, the Port of Tyne believes it’s poised to reap a “multitude” of benefits that will enhance operational efficiency, safety and sustainability across its operations. Expected benefits include increased competitiveness, faster data transfer speeds, low latency communication, enhanced automation and robotics, improved safety and security, remote operations, and environmental monitoring.

Commenting on the announcement, Jo North, director of technology and transformation at the Port of Tyne, said: “As we embrace the digital transformation of the maritime industry, the Port of Tyne is proud to lead the way as a 5G-enabled port. We have already invested in a port-wide private 5G network, and this contract will further enhance our capacity to implement innovative opportunities for sustainable growth, benefiting the communities in North and South Tyneside.

“Streamlined operations, improved safety and sustainability are just a few of the benefits this project will bring. Seamless connectivity will enable us to link shipping companies, logistics providers and regulatory bodies from across the globe, leading to more effective collaborations to address global challenges such as climate change and cyber security threats.”

Tracey Dixon, leader of South Tyneside Council, said: “Connecting residents to jobs is one of the five key ambitions of our 2023–2043 South Tyneside Vision, with the intention that residents will have access to good-quality jobs, skills and learning. This project will help to grow the port, maritime and creative industries across the region, offering more employment opportunities for residents.”

Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council and digital lead officer for the North East Combined Authority, said: “We are delighted to be leading on this project, the first of four projects as an official Innovation Region, and utilising our experience of rolling out 5G networks to enhance operations, competitiveness and opportunities at the port.

“This is not just of significance to the port and the wider North East region in establishing a national centre of excellence for the development and adoption of 5G, but also to the wider industry to accelerate the economic, social and wellbeing impact of advanced digital connectivity through rapid adoption and scale-up across key sectors.”

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