Press Release | 30 Mar 2022

Vodafone, Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Marine Laboratory announce use cases for world’s first 5G marine-focused testbed

Local and international businesses will able to use the testbed for free to create and develop marine 5G use cases.

  • The Smart Sound Connect Marine 5G Mobile Private Network, deployed by Vodafone in partnership with Nokia and operated by Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML), is to be the world’s first 5G marine-focused testbed, cementing Plymouth’s position at the forefront of marine and maritime innovation.
  • The testbed will be free to use for local and international businesses to create and develop marine 5G use cases.
  • The first 5G triallists for Smart Sound Connect include Lloyd’s Register, the National Physical Laboratory, Serco, and The Bounty Project.
  • The 5G network will be augmented by a high-speed data mesh network from Steatite.

Vodafone, Nokia, Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) have confirmed the first companies to run trials at the Plymouth Smart Sound – the first marine-focused 5G testbed powered by a 5G Mobile Private Network (MPN).

Smart Sound Connect incorporates a private 4G/5G marine network to provide full coverage across the coastal proving grounds, in partnership with Vodafone and Nokia, and offshore high-speed communications through Steatite’s Wave Relay mesh network.

These networks will be seamlessly integrated to provide an advanced communication capability from the quayside to more than 20 miles (32km) offshore and deliver world-leading advanced communications infrastructure across the entire Smart Sound.

Access to these private networks is delivered through high-performance remote operations centres based in Oceansgate and PML. The service is fully managed by PML.

Smart Sound Connect has been funded by the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership. The network is the first of its kind and will be free for businesses, academics and Government organisations to use in their testing and research on and under the waters of Plymouth Sound.

Featuring five mobile sites, including one on The Sound’s famous Napoleonic-era fort, the network will provide private connectivity for guaranteed performance.

A Mobile Private Network (MPN) has all the features of the widespread mobile network but is private and only available to specific users and devices. This has the benefit of increased security and guaranteed performance. An MPN can be deployed in any location and can range from a single office or factory to wide areas of farmland or coastline.

The world’s first marine-focused 5G testbed

The city of Plymouth has long been established as a leader in the international maritime industry, and the deployment of a 5G MPN to create the world’s first marine-focused 5G testbed is another breakthrough.

Some of the first companies to make use of the 5G environment are:

  • Marine Assured Autonomy Testbed (MAAT): Led by Lloyds Register and the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), the MAAT programme will see the creation of a fully synthetic and virtualised environment to test, prove and assure marine autonomy scenarios by using live data from Smart Sound Connect on a digital platform. This “digital twin” environment will form the basis for a marine autonomy certification and classification programme for autonomous vehicles.
  • Requirements for Operational Assurance of Data Standards (ROADS): ROADS is an international collaborative programme to develop specific digital standards and measurements. The creation of such standards will be supported by and co-ordinated through leading UK agencies and Research and Technology Organisations (RTOs), including the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), who are partnering with Lloyd’s Register and Ocean Futures on the Maritime Assured Autonomous Testbed (MAAT) programme.
  • Bounty Project: The Bounty Project is an educational and public programme that uses Bounty’s End, a replica sailing vessel from the Channel 4 series, “Mutiny”. The project will see live cameras and data sensors mounted on the vessel to provide live streaming from voyages around Plymouth Sound to be used publicly and in schools and colleges.

Centrica chooses Vodafone to build 5G mobile private network for gas plant

In a first for the oil and gas industry, energy giant Centrica will use a Vodafone 5G mobile private network (MPN) to create a "fully connected digital ecosystem" at one of its natural gas plants in Easington, Yorkshire.

Nick Gliddon, Vodafone’s UK Business Director, said: “Smart Sound Connect is using cutting-edge innovation to accelerate developments in marine technology through 5G. The 5G mobile private network will allow companies to test and develop new ideas and use cases beyond the shore’s edge, in a way that was not previously possible. Plymouth is helping the UK to become a global leader in this field.”

Dr James Fishwick, Head of Smart Sound at Plymouth Marine Laboratory, said: “The launch of the ocean-focused 5G network represents another huge step forward for Smart Sound as the UK’s leading testbed for advanced marine technologies. The high-speed network will allow our integrated fleet of autonomous platforms – which include state-of-the-art data buoys and robotic vessels loaded with environmental sensors – to communicate the unprecedented levels of ocean data they are able to capture in real-time.

“In turn, this will support further advances in high-tech marine innovation while also informing the world-leading scientific research being carried out here in Plymouth. This is a fantastic milestone for the city and for UK tech and innovation.”

Smart Sound Connect has been made possible thanks to £1.8 million in funding from the Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership.

Alastair Wallace, Group Business Development Manager, Steatite Ltd, said: “Steatite is delighted to be involved with this ground-breaking project through the supply of world-class radio technology to create a resilient, high bandwidth MESH (Mobile AdHoc Network – MANET) network. This will support and enhance the overall testbed resulting in a totally distinctive marine communications environment.”

Smart Sound Connect augments Smart Sound Plymouth, the city’s advanced marine technology proving ground. Developed since 2006, Smart Sound builds on existing world-class research facilities, including Plymouth Marine Laboratory’s Western Channel Observatory and the University of Plymouth’s Marine Station. It has benefited from the addition of capital, equipment and a highly skilled support team from the ERDF-funded Marine Business Technology Centre (MBTC) led by Plymouth City Council and supported by research partners, the Marine Biological Association, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, and the Universities of Exeter and Plymouth. That programme has supported nearly 400 businesses since 2018.

The testbed is located within the Plymouth Sound National Marine Park – the first marine park in the UK – which aims to be a national exemplar and thought leader on climate change and celebrates the natural environment and heritage.

Notes to Editors

About The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership

The Heart of the South West Local Enterprise Partnership – covering Devon, Plymouth, Somerset and Torbay – is one of the 38 LEPs in England. The Heart of the South West LEP is a business-led partnership between the private sector, local authorities, universities and colleges.

The Heart of the South West LEP has identified Digital as the highest priority for investment. £10m is currently being invested in Connecting Devon and Somerset (CDS) delivery to support digital connectivity directly, and a further £4m is being invested in improvements to mobile connectivity, modernisation of the area’s FE College ICT offer, and to establish a 5G pilot at Plymouth Smart Sound.

In total, a further £8m has been ring-fenced to continue delivery of the Heart of the South West’s Digital Strategy. This will enable further investment in digital skills, provision of a new targeted digital business advisory service, further infrastructure connectivity improvements for ‘hard-to-reach’ places that do not currently benefit from commercial roll-out programmes, and investment in transformational digital opportunities that will enable the region to build back better. This is all fundamental to increasing productivity and levelling-up in areas like the Heart of the South West.

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About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed-line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

We have a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. We were the first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester and now have 5G in locations across Germany, Ireland, Italy, Spain as well as the UK. Meanwhile, our 4G network coverage currently reaches over 99% of the UK population.

Today, Vodafone serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK. Vodafone is the largest provider of full fibre in the UK – our superfast broadband services are now available to nearly 12 million homes across the UK.

Sustainability is also at the heart of what we do: as of 1 July 2021, 100% of the grid electricity we use in the UK is certified to be from renewable sources.

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