Ubiquitous connectivity using 5G infrastructure and smart technology can significantly improve the quality and efficiency of our daily lives.

Smart communities are the building blocks of smart cities. These communities use state-of-the-art digital technology, combined with real-time data and analytics, to create smarter, more intuitive infrastructure and to make these spaces better places to work, play and invest in.

Harnessing the power of data

It all starts with harnessing the power of data, which urban environments and their various systems produce in high volumes. When this data is analysed to improve people’s lives, it becomes a single conversation informed by collective intelligence, with different systems ‘talking’ to each other. At a community level, these systems form the foundation of an urban environment well positioned to reach smart city status.

For example, access to reliable, real-time information can help people improve operational efficiency in their factories, explore learning and business opportunities, or simply find the best way to get from point A to point B, knowing their safety is monitored. The result is engaged, interactive communities.

The technology that underpins this is high-speed data networks, enhanced by advanced technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), data analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI). Neutral-host communications infrastructure, in particular, is critical. This infrastructure enables all carriers to expand their footprint at a fraction of the cost of doing it themselves.

Better quality of life and service delivery

Devices connected to these communication networks are both the sources of information and the means to get this information to those who need it. These devices can make life easier and more efficient in several ways. They can manage and monitor footfall, traffic lights and flow, parking availability, energy consumption, air quality, and much more. Public and private enterprises can become more efficient by connecting to this shared infrastructure. They can offer improved security, health and safety safeguards, and seamless experiences for users of public and private services.

Connected communities also offer more commercial opportunities. That’s why municipalities and governments worldwide are starting to take notice of smart applications to provide better and faster services to more people. These applications translate raw data into alerts, insights, and actions.

Sunderland, located in the north of England, has moved swiftly to take advantage of smart technology and its ability to solve urban challenges. Its smart city programme includes work on digital inclusion, transport innovation, housing, health, advanced manufacturing and smart education. All these projects have one essential underlying requirement: connectivity infrastructure that provides equal access to data.

Sunderland smart city project

Sunderland City Council awarded a 20-year strategic partnership to BAI Communications (BAI) to design, build and operate next-generation digital infrastructure, including a private 5G small-cell network. The project is the next step in the council’s journey to achieve its global smart city ambition.

Sunderland will leverage the power of 5G and IoT to establish a network of connectivity to enhance employment opportunities, business efficiency, and economic growth. The first phase of the partnership – providing a backbone of 5G connectivity to the city based on a neutral-host mode – is nearing completion.

Key priorities highlighted by Sunderland City Council include health and social care as well as fostering educational and skills development opportunities at all levels of the community.

In health and social care, Sunderland’s investment in developing assistive technologies provides tools that support its most vulnerable citizens. These can include physical devices such as prosthetics and keyboards, as well as software such as screen readers and communication programmes. These tools enable people with disabilities or those who require continuous care to meet their needs in their own home, rather than having to stay in a care home or hospital. At the same time, devices can link back to health practitioners and keep them informed of a patient’s health indicators and any red flags they need to be aware of.

Education is another area where connectivity offers significant benefits. This includes working with schools to provide the data access they need to increase educational opportunities via online and remote learning and to make a career in tech a viable option for their students. In partnership with Sunderland City Council and the University of Sunderland, BAI is set to deploy a 5G test lab to support pioneering research and an IoT network to connect and enhance campus services. Ultra-fast public access Wi-Fi will be available across the campus. There are also operational benefits. For example, the university will be able to use sensors to monitor waste bins and to enhance building management and security.

5G private networks also support smart factory manufacturing. Sunderland is already seeing ground-breaking work in smart manufacturing and Connected and Automated Logistics (CAL).  The result is improved efficiencies, competitiveness, increased regional investment and exports. The development of self-driving vehicle trials is also increasing supply chain agility. This includes using autonomous heavy goods vehicles to transfer goods between the car manufacturers’ supply chains and the Sunderland car manufacturing plant.

Building the smart communities of tomorrow

The core idea of connected communities is, and always should be, to empower people. BAI’s partnership with Sunderland aims to precisely do that, with an approach that extends digital capabilities to all its residents.

In the next blog of our ‘Building the smart cities of the future series’, we’ll explore connected transport capabilities. Every day, tens of millions of people worldwide use public transport; this critical infrastructure is the backbone of cities. More than ever, citizens expect digital innovations to improve their travel experience, particularly in this post-pandemic world.

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Read the first blog of the ‘Building the smart cities of the future’ series here.