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Virgin Media O2 bags itself a sweet private networking deal

Staff at British Sugar smiled indulgently this week as the telecoms press took a golden opportunity to make jokes about sweet things.

The chance arose courtesy of a private mobile networking contract the manufacturer awarded to Virgin Media O2 Business. Under the deal, Virgin will roll out dedicated 4G coverage to four British Sugar sites as part of the latter’s multi-million pound ‘factories of the future’ initiative. In a candid (or should that be candied?) statement on Tuesday, British Sugar said it opted for cellular over Wi-Fi due to the requirement for good indoor and outdoor coverage, and concerns that the highly-metallic factory environment would interfere with Wi-Fi signals.

VMO2 and British Sugar already have 15 manufacturing use cases in the works, one of which is using AI for real-time process monitoring to enable predictive maintenance. As a little sweetener, the network is also readily upgradeable to 5G when the time comes, which will pave the way for driverless factory vehicles, robotic production processes, and even using drones to check on silos and lime kilns.

“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,” said Jo Bertram, managing director of VMO2 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.”

Figures published last year by Omdia predicted the global private LTE and 5G networking market will turn over $5 billion by 2025. Manufacturing is expected to account for $1.3 billion of that sum, making it the biggest single sector in terms of revenue. In addition, the analyst firm asserts that 99 percent of enterprises that deploy private networks will act like kids in a sweetshop: buying extra services in areas like cloud and applications, among others. It means that private networking could, according to Omdia, unlock a $2 trillion ecosystem of various additional services.

VMO2’s private network is already up and running at British Sugar’s plant in Wissington, Norfolk. The other sites are located in Cantley in Norfolk, Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, and Newark in Nottinghamshire.

“During testing we were encouraged by the early results seen and as we have begun to roll out the targeted priority use cases to our users, they have been quick to feedback the time savings they have seen – with new plant commissioning, plant testing and day-to-day diagnostic processes being highlighted in particular,” noted Nick Smalley, Programme Manager at British Sugar.

The deal is also good news for Nokia, which is supplying VMO2 and British Sugar with its end-to-end private wireless networking and edge compute platform, called Digital Automation Cloud (DAC).

“By working in partnership with Virgin Media O2 Business, we’re enabling industry leaders such as British Sugar to innovate and modernise its processes by leveraging the capabilities of private mobile networks across multiple factory sites,” said Chris Johnson, head of Nokia’s global enterprise business.

“Our secure, low-latency, high-capacity and extensible Nokia DAC solution combined with Virgin Media O2 Business’ managed services expertise creates the best platform for manufacturers to start their digital transformation journey, implement new innovative use cases and seamlessly upgrade to 5G as and when required.”

Between them, VMO2 and Nokia are sure to hit the sweet spot for British Sugar that will be hard to beet.


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