Following the announcement of major investment into our smart city infrastructure here in Sunderland in October 2021 with strategic partner BAI Communications, we caught up with Liz St Louis, Assistant Director of Smart Cities at Sunderland City Council, to explore the projected impact for the city, its residents and businesses.

Why was the BAI announcement timely and what can people expect to see first as the delivery plan is rolled out?

On our fast paced journey over the last three years, we have achieved a great deal to digitally transform Sunderland, equipping businesses and communities with the digital foundations they need to succeed now and in the future. This can be seen across a broad range of use cases, connectivity and underpinning activity to continuously improve education, skills and enterprise.

Now that the foundations are set, we need to ‘turbo-charge’ our activity to meet the scale of our ambition. The new BAI partnership, announced in October 2021, will help us achieve this.

Foremost is the first of our network of networks, which will provide some of the most advanced wireless networks in the country. This will support residents, businesses and public service delivery and will see our free, ultrafast wi-fi expanded across the whole of the city centre and at Roker.

Continuously building and improving our digital infrastructure and, in turn, the strength of connectivity for residents, businesses and visitors is critical. Providing faster, more reliable connectivity is essential for personal and professional growth in this digital age, as well as being fundamental to the evolution of places and the rise of smart cities.

How are your partnerships helping to develop future technology to support ultra-fast connectivity across the city?

As a council, we understand our strengths, but also where we need partners to supplement our capacity and build our capability to ensure we can achieve the scale of our ambition.

We see working with global partners, experts in the field of advanced wireless infrastructures, and the delivery of digital and data solutions, as a pivotal next step in helping us deliver the underpinning networks so we can achieve a whole range of benefits for Sunderland residents, businesses and visitors.

BAI, for example, is known as a leading global provider of 4G and 5G connected infrastructure. Our partnership will pioneer the future of advanced connectivity, delivering ubiquitous coverage across Sunderland that can transform the lives of individuals and catalyse business ambitions in our smart city.

How will Sunderland’s growing ‘super connectivity’, such as full-fibre services, enable the city’s connectivity to the world and increase its global competitiveness?

Every city needs enhanced digital connectivity to be able to compete in today’s growing digital world and stand out on a global scale.

Sunderland is an international city, home to 87 overseas-headquartered businesses originating in 18 different territories, employing a total of 23,633 people. At present, we have more than £350m of live development projects underway in the heart of the city. We are developing a new urban quarter: Riverside Sunderland with 1m sq.ft office space, 1,000 new homes and a Future Living Expo planned for 2023.

Our ambitious physical regeneration plans, which will bring more jobs and houses to Sunderland, are matched with our digital ambitions and will ensure the city is a smart place to live, work and play.

Organisations looking to future-proof their systems and processes must recognise the potential of 5G. Its fast and reliable transmissions are set to revolutionise business mobility solutions from manufacturing to communications and logistics.

Businesses across Sunderland will have an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage as they take leverage of the benefits of 5G. Smart technologies will enhance business performance and revolutionise both employee and customer experience, making the city and its businesses more appealing to talented individuals and investors alike.

How will the improved digital infrastructure across Sunderland support residents in the area?

We, as a Local Authority, are committed to providing essential digital infrastructure for the future of residents and communities. Sunderland’s residents will have access to advanced connectivity including GB capable broadband speeds to enable people to live, work and play from home in this digitally enabled world.

The city’s ambitious plans will realise so much more with some of the smartest and most sustainable homes now being built in Sunderland, and our advances in the assistive technology and digitally enabled care arena, enabling all sectors of our communities to live safely and independently at home.

Extending independence and enabling sustainability by investing in supporting infrastructure is already reaping rewards for local people. The positive impact of numerous projects across the city, includes:

  • the revolutionary impact of assistive technology and digitally enabled care, enhancing adult social care across the city
  • the Sunderland Events Programme and Homes Expo, placing Sunderland at the forefront of the future of smart housing
  • ground-breaking work in smart manufacturing, which is further enhancing work in Connected Automated Logistics for the wider manufacturing sector, realising significant benefits relating to data enhancements

All will benefit from the BAI partnership in terms of underlying digital connectivity and a range of digital and data solutions that will continue transforming lives across Sunderland for years to come.

The future – what does the future digital infrastructure look like for Sunderland and how quickly will change be realised?

With our investments and efforts to date – particularly with fibre connectivity – we are already seeing several benefits.

Our partnership with BAI will deliver some of the most advanced wireless networks and a host of related digital and data solutions, whilst catapulting our achievements at pace.

The first deployments will be in place as quickly as June 2022 with many more to follow.

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