Make it Digital, Make it Sunderland – Connectivity Prospectus March 2020


5th March 2020

Topic Infrastructure, Living & Inclusion
Technology 5G, Fibre
Sector Infrastructure, Living & Inclusion

The Vision

Sunderland was named in 2018 by Tech Nation as among the top tech cities with a £118m turnover and jobs boom in the digital technology sector with the number of people growing in the sector by 26% in the four years to 2018. It is also home to a Digital Catapult centre, providing localised and tailored services to drive digital adoption.

Sunderland City Council and its key partners in the city now have ambitions to build on those strengths through progressing a smart city agenda, recognising that next generation fibre and mobile infrastructure is vital to connect people and organisations and deliver a range of use cases to enable transformational change.

Make it digital, make it Sunderland is the shared smart vision for the city that ‘by 2030, Sunderland will be a connected, international city with opportunities for all’.  This will drive positive outcomes aligned to the City Plan of:

  • Becoming a Dynamic City – by evolving the current industrial economic motor sector to become a world leader in digital technologies and industry 4.0. Embracing state of the art technologies, attracting experienced talent and developing the next generation of experts and leaders in technology to create more and better jobs.
  • Building a Healthy City – improving on health and social outcomes by focusing on inclusiveness, supporting an aging population and digitally enabling healthy and independent lifestyles.
  • Developing a Vibrant City – focusing initially on delivering a smart city centre through technological advancements to attract more residents and businesses bringing cohesiveness to neighbouring areas through commerce, culture, sports, leisure and much more.

Realisation of this vision will involve the delivery of fibre to all premises and ubiquitous 5G across Sunderland. In doing so, we intend that no one and nowhere is left behind. We are also stimulating demand through a series of use cases: Digital City Centre, Smart Homes, Industry 4.0, Sporting Excellence and Events, Start-Up Ecosystem and Digital Skills.

Key city partners from the education, health, housing and business sectors have signed up to this vision, championed by the Council, through a City Board.

We have already implemented, at pace, a number of “barrier busting” policies, investing in excess of £10m directly to start this smart city journey, and seeking other public sector investment. We have also delivered a 5G-ready operational network delivering ultrafast wi-fi to the high street, Gentoo tower blocks, a primary school and a transport corridor to inspire and gain traction with our citizens.

We are now seeking a strategic partner(s) to enter a joint venture with the Council which will control all of our connectivity assets and invest in the necessary fibre and 5G network infrastructure, deliver and operate an Open Access Network and act as the 5G Neutral Host.

As well as being a co-investor (through the above) and JV partner, it is our intent for the Council to be an anchor client for the new commercial vehicle and encourage other public bodies to pool their assets and also become clients.

About Sunderland

Sunderland has a population of 280,000 across some 120,000 households.

Age Pyramid Sunderland

Sunderland has historically been an industrial area with focus on Glass making, Coal and Shipbuilding.  The 1970s and 1980s saw these industries in decline bringing significant unemployment to the area.  The economic situation improved when Nissan Motor Manufacturing UK invested in car production in the area. Whilst having a solid GVA per capita, the city continues to have several areas of high social deprivation reflected in poor educational achievements and significant levels of digital exclusion.

A series of major regeneration initiatives have been undertaken since the mid 1980s and areas such as the Doxford International Business Park have attracted service industry companies both national and international.

In the city centre, significant regeneration activities are underway, not least through the Riverside Sunderland development on the site of the old Vaux brewery. Led by a series of innovative commercial, leisure, public sector and residential developments, Riverside Sunderland reflects the city’s aspirations for Sunderland, focusing on sustainability, health and wellbeing, social inclusion and prosperity. It will provide jobs and homes for the people of Sunderland and attract skilled workers, students and visitors.

The development includes the recently-completed Beam (home to Ocado and others), the new City Hall (under construction), all boosted by over £100m of investment committed by Legal and General.  Future initiatives include the development of the riverside corridor and redevelopment of the Sheepfolds area adjacent to the Stadium of Light.

In addition, the first phases of the new 150-hectare International Advanced Manufacturing Park in Washington are already under construction and due to complete in the coming months.

Major private sector employers in the city include Nissan (26,000 direct and indirect jobs), Tombola, and Hays Travel.

Sunderland Software Centre pulls together the best of public, private and educational sectors to encourage the adoption of digital technologies.  They have helped some 500 SMEs grow in the region and work closely with the Digital Catapult and Tech Nation.

More information on our Digital Strategy for the City, can be found here available here –

5G-ready City Centre Operational Network

As part of the commitment to rapid execution, the Council designed and implemented (in just eight weeks!) ultrafast connectivity within the city centre, initially 1Gb/s access speed with the ability to increase up to 10Gb/s through the use of mmWave. Our high-speed ring can reach beyond 2KM and allows us to connect, at very short notice to any location within that area, at high speed and relatively low cost.   It has been designed in such a way to allow it to be replicated for tactical deployment anywhere within the wider city. The solution uses 5G-ready fixed wireless in several locations in the city centre, including:

  • Learning environments, starting with a Primary School;
  • Two social housing tower block community rooms;
  • A transport corridor;
  • Ultrafast public Wi-Fi in the city centre, on High Street West encompassing the area from Union Street up to Keel Square; and
  • Event Space, Keel Square
This figure shows the anticipated minimum reach (yellow ring) of the 5G pilot city centre ring (Red triangle)

This figure shows the anticipated minimum reach (yellow ring) of the 5G pilot city centre ring (Red triangle)

Each pilot use case was chosen for its ability to deliver real value immediately. A brief description of each follow:

Primary school:  The primary school now receives a 1Gb/s link to replace the current low speed (circa 13Mb/s download and 7Mb/s upload) link.  This has allowed for the first-time, uninterrupted education videos sourced on the internet and live video connectivity with its international partner school.  Furthermore, it enables future use of teaching techniques such as remote specialist teaching.  The link will also provide high speed connectivity to the Council’s education applications and an on-line coding club is about to be delivered into the school.

Tower block community rooms:  The digital divide is not limited to the sphere of education only, there is a percentage of citizens in underprivileged areas in Sunderland who have no access to internet connectivity.  This results in a reduced ability to search and apply for work, inability to easily apply for universal credit and increases poverty by preventing these citizens from accessing the most cost-effective energy packages, which are often only available via the internet.  Each tower block will have high-speed internet provided in the community rooms to provide an easy mechanism to access internet services. This is testament to the strength of our partnership with Gentoo who manage over 28,000 social housing properties in Sunderland.

Public Wi-Fi in High Street West:  Ultra-fast Wi-Fi is provided in the High Street West area of the city centre.  This allows the public unfettered access to the internet at very high speeds demonstrating to the public how 5G can provide, quickly and at relatively low cost, high speed connectivity to areas where, previously, there was none.  In addition, the landing page of the Wi-Fi access login allows local traders to promote their products and services.

Keel Square event space: Situated at the end of the High Street West, Keel Square offers an ideal location for events and showcases.  This location has been fitted with the capability of providing 1Gb/s or multiple 1Gb/s high speed links. As a key location in the city centre redevelopment having high speed connectivity will provide new opportunities for events from the ability to provide retail purchasing (handheld credit card terminals) connectivity to innovate ways to preview holiday destinations through virtual reality. A number of showcase events are about to commence.

Planned additional investment

We are shortly to commission the delivery of a new fibre ring in south Sunderland with links to the Council’s existing two data centres in Moorside and Jack Crawford House. Subject to survey work, the anticipated route is shown below:

Sunderland Doxford Park

This provision will be built with significant spare duct capacity. Additional links to premises will be added during the survey and build phases. We are exploring two further rings around the wider city and a Low Power WAN for a number of IoT applications across multiple city partners.

In addition, we are also implementing various barrier-busting initiatives including ‘dig once’ policies and the potential use of planning powers to secure the provision of new digital ducting in new developments across the city.

We are also engaging with other public sector bodies with the intent of securing further engagement and the pooling of demand and assets.

This opportunity

We intend to make available all the above Council assets to the proposed joint venture vehicle to operate an Open Access Network and 5G Neutral Host Network across the city. We will also licence access to various street furniture and properties where we control them, where others control access such as street lighting we will support activities to gain access, subject to demand.

We will shortly launch a procurement process using the competitive dialogue procedure to appoint a strategic partner(s) representing investment, build and operate capabilities across 5G Neutral Host and fibre based Open Access Network. This strategic partner(s), together with the Council, would design, build and then operate the Open Access Network and 5G Neutral Host Network through a joint venture vehicle established for this purpose.

The company structure will be developed with participating organisations through the forthcoming procurement process.  It is anticipated that the procurement process will be completed by the second quarter of 2021.  However, prior to the commencement of this process we will be holding pre-procurement market engagement events with interested organisations to help develop our thinking and prepare for the subsequent process.

If you wish to participate in the pre-procurement engagement, please register your interest by completing and submitting, via the NEPO Portal, the Expression of Interest Form to be received no later than 4.00pm on 23rd March 2020.

In parallel with the proposed procurement process, we will also be proceeding with the planned additional investment described above of laying new digital fibre and developing our subsequent use cases for the new smart city network.

Click here for the official Prior Information Notice (PIN).