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BT to sell private 5G networks powered by Ericsson kit

If you fancy your own dedicated network there's another player in town – but don't ask how much it costs

BT linked arms with Ericsson to serve-up commercial 5G private network deployments as a managed service for organizations in Britain.

The move effectively sees BT acting as systems integrator for Ericsson's private 5G networking technology, which enables customers to operate their own dedicated 5G networks.

These offer the advantage of a high-speed network that can cover a much wider area than a typical enterprise Wi-Fi deployment, making them suitable for environments such as factories, educational campuses and other large sites where security and ultra-low latency connectivity are important.

BT and Ericsson said they signed a multi-year contract for BT to sell the next generation mobile network technology to businesses and organizations in sectors that include manufacturing, defence, education, retail, healthcare, transport and logistics.

According to BT, organizations deploying private 5G infrastructure will be able to improve productivity and operations and save costs in a number of areas including asset tracking, predictive maintenance, connected sensors, real-time data processing, automation and robotics.

Customers choosing BT will receive Ericsson kit including dual-mode core network controllers, radio units, and network monitoring, all served up with professional and support services from BT itself.

BT claimed this private 5G partnership was the first agreement of its kind in the country. Other vendors have already launched private 5G products, notably HPE and Cisco earlier this year, but those are dependent on local integrators or service providers to implement, a role that BT will fill in this case.

The new agreement follows BT's setting up a Division X unit within its Enterprise business, in order to scale up and commercialize the development of various technologies. These include IoT and Edge Computing, as well as private 5G networks.

The Enterprise division within BT could do with a shot in the arm: in fiscal 2022 ended 31 March, the unit turned over £5.157 billion, down 5 percent year-on-year. As a group, BT declined 5 percent to £20.845 billion.

BT's managing director for Division X, Marc Overton, said that the new private 5G service would play a major role in business transformation for customers, supporting the advancement of Industry 4.0 and smart factory processes that hold the promise of cost savings and efficiencies.

"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," he said.

The service is available now, and BT said it has already partnered with Ericsson on several private 5G projects, including Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland, where 35 acres of the port is covered.

The Belfast deployment is being used for remote operation of heavy plant machinery, artificial reality for remote maintenance, plus video AI analytics and the use of drones for surveillance and inspections.

We asked BT how much such a private 5G network might cost, but it would only say that this would depend on the type of deployment, size of facility and the specific requirements, such as what services might be carried or included as part of the package.

Meanwhile, BT has been in the news recently as the UK government is conducting a national security assessment on the investment in the company by French telco tycoon Patrick Drahi, who is now the largest shareholder in BT Group via his Altice UK organisation.

The UK telco also signed a deal with AWS to help with its own digital transformation earlier this month, and last month announced the trial of a commercial quantum secured metro network in London, using quantum key distribution (QKD) to securely encrypt data over standard fibre optic links. ®

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