Sunderland receives £3.8m of funding to support 5G roll out and bid to become one of UK's leading smart cities

New technology will improve port efficiency, transport links and food production.

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Sunderland and the wider region are one of a select group of flagship locations set to benefit from a £3.8m grant to improve the city’s digital infrastructure and wireless technology.

The money will be used as part of the City Council’s drive to establish Sunderland as one of the UK’s leading smart cities.

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While Sunderland led the bid, the development of the new technology will also benefit the other six LA7 North East Local Authorities - Newcastle, Gateshead, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, County Durham and Northumberland.

To secure the additional funding, Sunderland submitted a bid to the Department for Science Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

Key areas identified in the bid included the use of 5G technology to enhance the city’s port efficiency and safety and to create a connected transport intelligence system (CTIS) to enhance transport efficiency on the region's roads.

Sunderland City Council has secured £3.8m of funding as part of its drive to become one of the UK’s most advanced smart cities.Sunderland City Council has secured £3.8m of funding as part of its drive to become one of the UK’s most advanced smart cities.
Sunderland City Council has secured £3.8m of funding as part of its drive to become one of the UK’s most advanced smart cities.

A statement from the DSIT said: “As one of 10 innovation regions the technology will be used in Sunderland to inspect the port estate, boosting efficiency and reducing fuel usage. "It will enable the port to drive forward plans to become all-electric and reduce environmental impact, whilst enhancing competitiveness and improving safety.

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“5G wireless technology will also focus on improving road transport efficiency within cities and between strategically vital industrial locations, such as Nissan and the Port of Tyne.

"This project is set to redefine regional transportation dynamics.”

The improved wireless infrastructure is also set to be used in local agriculture to increase automation of machinery and the use of sensors and drones to provide data for farmers to monitor crop production, soil quality, livestock movements and environmental factors.

The DSIT also highlighted how improved connectivity will enable “360 degree live broadcasting” from across the city and wider LA7 region.

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Speaking about the successful bid, Minister of State for DSIT, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “We had 36 bids submitted and Sunderland was one of 10 to receive a share of £36m of funding.

“It was important to ensure there is a good geographical spread of the funding across the UK, but what was particularly impressive about Sunderland’s bid was the specific ideas which were put forward.

“This included operation of the port to increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact, and improving road transport connectivity with the use of sensors to provide data to monitor traffic movements and potentially reduce congestion.”

Sir John Whittingdale.Sir John Whittingdale.
Sir John Whittingdale.

Sir John was also fulsome in his praise for the progress already made by the city in improving its digital infrastructure.

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He added: “Improved digital connectivity is vital for economic growth and prosperity. Our aim is for gigabit broadband coverage to be available for the whole of the UK by 2030. The UK average is currently around 70%, while in Sunderland it is 86.4%, and so the city has made very good progress.”

After being informed of Sunderland and LA7’s successful bid, Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council, said: “At the forefront of our strategic collaboration is steadfast support for 5G and advanced wireless connectivity, identified as pivotal components in shaping the region's digital landscape.

“Connectivity is the catalyst for a sustainable and thriving future. 5G is already setting a precedent in transforming our public services and underpinning economic growth, as well as bringing social value across our communities."

Patrick Melia, Sunderland City Council's chief executive.Patrick Melia, Sunderland City Council's chief executive.
Patrick Melia, Sunderland City Council's chief executive.

The Council chief hopes improved digital infrastructure will empower the city and region to become a national hub in pioneering the the harnessing of technology to bring about economic growth and social wellbeing.

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Mr Melia added: “The impact really becomes tangible when we can leverage the power of technology to make our factories and workplaces more productive, and create more and better paid jobs. 

“This is exactly what we are setting out to prove with the 5G Innovation Regions programme funding, whilst showcasing some of our region’s leading industries on a national stage.”

The city and wider region have already successfully deployed private 5G networks and have expertise in designing and deploying 5G solutions, which can be seen in Sunderland with the 5G Connected Autonomous Logistics (5GCAL) operation at Nissan and the 5G Sunderland Autonomous Mobility Service (SAMS) solution being developed in Sunderland city centre. 

April this year (2023) saw a massive expansion in the availability of free public wifi in Sunderland, with the number of access points tripling across the city.

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Speaking on the wider roll out of 5G technology across the country, Sir John said: “We’re channelling millions into local areas to unlock the potential of cutting-edge 5G wireless and digital technologies which will reshape our public services, drive economic growth and boost innovation. 

“This new fund will give local areas from across the country the opportunity to be at the forefront of Britain’s world-leading 5G revolution.” 

Other areas to receive a share of the funding are Belfast City Council, Greater Manchester Combined Authority, West Midlands Combined Authority, Oxfordshire County Council, North Ayrshire Council, Sussex County Council, Cumberland Council, Shropshire Council and Glasgow City Council.