Sunderland City Council is pleased to announce that law firm Bevan Brittan has won a competitive tender to advise the council on the make-up and procurement of a strategic consortium to deliver cutting-edge 5G connectivity across the whole city region.

Sunderland has already become the first city in the UK to deploy 5G ready WiFi in the city centre and other areas including two tower blocks and a primary school (Hudson Road Primary School in Hendon), as well as traffic sensors to inform traffic management. The council is now embarking on an exciting plan to deliver 5G and ‘smart city’ capabilities across the area in partnership with a commercial consortium.

This will see Sunderland becoming the first local authority, working in partnership with the private sector, in the country to become a ‘neutral host’ for 5G connectivity and fibre, from which telecoms operators will then buy space to offer their own 5G services.

The council has identified that digital connectivity in Sunderland represents one of the key challenges facing the city. Sunderland currently suffers from one of the poorest ultrafast broadband penetrations of all UK cities and is not yet an existing target area or a future target area for market-led comprehensive 5G investment and delivery. Current market investment plans are limited to certain areas of the city only based on purely commercial considerations. Poor fibre penetration throughout the city also impedes the ability of mobile operators to deliver high speed 4G and 5G connectivity.

Motivated by greater opportunities available for citizens and businesses alike, the council has already made significant progress in enhancing the city’s digital capabilities to date.

Sunderland City Council’s ambition to make Sunderland a truly smart city requires the provision of ubiquitous high-speed connectivity throughout the city, both wirelessly through 5G and wired through fibre to all premises.

To do this, the council is commencing a procurement process for a strategic delivery partner. Bevan Brittan will be advising the council on this process, including the legal models and structures for the delivery of the project, the content and drafting of the procurement and transaction documents, negotiations with bidders, evaluations of the tenders received, and final negotiations with the preferred bidders.

Richard Lane, partner at Bevan Brittan who will be leading this work, said: “We are delighted to be working with Sunderland City Council on this ground-breaking 5G project. It holds the potential to bring huge benefits to the people and city of Sunderland, providing ultrafast connectivity, enabling smart city technologies and benefiting businesses. Sunderland is the first council to create a project to launch its own 5G network. With the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) and Ofcom encouraging authorities to look at alternative models of this sort, we can expect many other councils around the country to be watching Sunderland’s project closely.”

Patrick Melia, chief executive at Sunderland City Council, said: “We look forward to working with Bevan Brittan as we progress our plans to form a strategic consortium focused on the timely delivery of cutting-edge 5G connectivity across the city.”

Patrick adds: “Successful collaborations such as this have reaped great rewards for the city to date. Our focus for 2020 and beyond is to forge a new direction to live, work and thrive in our connected, international city of Sunderland.

“The continuing rollout of our ultrafast 5G network will augment Sunderland’s position as a global digital force and enhance opportunities for all across our smart city.”

The ambition for the project is to have a strategic partner in place by early 2021.

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