First firms chosen for trials in Plymouth’s £1.8m 5G marine testbed

The first batch of companies have been chosen to run trials at the ground-breaking £1.8m marine-focused 5G testbed Plymouth Smart Sound.

Maritime assurance and certification company Lloyd’s Register, the National Physical Laboratory, outsourcing giant Serco, and yachtsman Conrad Humphreys’ organisation for helping young people The Bounty Project are among the first slew of businesses that will use the testbed powered by 5G Mobile Private Network (MPN).

Vodafone, Nokia, Plymouth City Council and Plymouth Marine Laboratory (PML) are behind the Smart Sound Connect project, which 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.

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These networks will be integrated to provide an advanced communication capability from the quayside to more than 20 miles offshore and deliver advanced communications infrastructure across the entire Smart Sound.

Access to these private networks is delivered through high-performance remote operations centres based in Oceansgate, at Devonport, 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 (HotSW LEP). 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 Napoleonic era fort, the network will provide private connectivity. 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, 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.

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 virtualized environment to test, prove and assure marine autonomy scenarios by utilising 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 coordinated through leading UK agencies and RTOs, including the National Physical Laboratory (NPL), which is 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 utilises 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.

Nick Gliddon, business director, Vodafone UK, 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 PML, said: “The launch of the ocean-focussed 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 £1.8m in funding from the HotSW LEP, where chair Karl Tucker said: “This is an exciting time for Plymouth and the wider Heart of the South West region as it establishes itself as a pioneer in marine and maritime innovation.

“Smart Sound Connect forms a key part of the Ocean Futures programme that was launched last year, and which identifies the South West’s key strengths in the field of digital innovation together with marine autonomy and the development of clean maritime technologies.

“We are delighted to have invested Growth Deal funding to develop this world first ocean-based 5G testbed as part of our ongoing efforts to accelerate delivery of transformational opportunities and build back better.”

Alastair Wallace, group business development manager at 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 test bed resulting in a totally distinctive marine communications environment.”

How to contact William Telford and Business Live

Business Live’s South West Business Reporter is William Telford. William has more than a decade’s experience reporting on the business scene in Plymouth and the South West. He is based in Plymouth but covers the entire region.

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Smart Sound Connect augments Smart Sound Plymouth, the city’s advanced marine technology proving ground. Developed since 2006, Smart Sound leverages existing world class research facilities, including PML’s Western Channel Observatory and the University of Plymouth’s Marine Station, and 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, PML 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.

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William TelfordBusiness Editor, Plymouth Live