Vodafone partners with Ford to deploy private 5G network in UK

Ford Motor Company and Vodafone Business are installing a 5G private mobile network at the carmaker's new electric vehicle production site in Essex in the UK, in order to speed up the production of electric batteries.

Vodafone Business and Ford are leading a UK consortium that is trialing how 5G mobile private networks can improve the production processes for electric vehicles at two linked sites in Essex and Cambridge. The Cambridge site is at welding research specialists TWI, and the private network will allow the two sites to work together on welding electric batteries.

The consortium is one of nine projects that are sharing a £35 million (US$43.5 million) funding pot awarded by the UK government for 5G trials. A total of £5 million ($6 million) was awarded to the Ford/Vodafone consortium and a separate consortium called 5G-ENCODE, led by UK technology company Zeetta. According to the Financial Times, the Ford project was awarded £2 million ($2.5 million).

Vodafone said the deployment of the private 5G network at Ford's new E:PriME facility in Essex is scheduled for completion in the autumn. The aim is to reduce delays in manufacturing, increase bandwidth across the campus, improve security and reliability, and increase productivity.

E:PriME stands for electrified powertrain in manufacturing engineering and is a consortium led by Ford's UK-based global manufacturing engineering team. The Advanced Propulsion Centre (APC) UK, a joint venture of the UK government and the automotive industry, said the E:PriME project has a total project value of £24.2 million ($30 million), of which £12.1 million ($15 million) was provided by APC.

Pablo Tomasi, an analyst at consultancy Omdia, noted that car manufacturers are among the most active companies looking to use the benefits of private 5G networks to improve their production. "Ford is in good company, with BMW and Mercedes Benz having also announced in the last year private 5G networks at selected factories," Tomasi said. "Private 5G technology can be a game changer in the automotive production industry as it delivers wireless connectivity that can match existing options in terms of reliability and latency while adding the benefits of flexibility and mobility."

4G- and 5G-based private mobile networks are also generally regarded as a key enterprise opportunity for mobile operators. Indeed, Tomasi said this is a significant announcement for Vodafone Business, which has identified 4G and 5G private networks as a key growth opportunity.

"Vodafone is now building momentum in this nascent market. With the industry now fully aware that the real potential of 5G lays in the enterprise market, private 5G networks will become a hot competitive areas for telecoms operators and their partners," he added.

However, operators have also attacked plans by regulators in countries such as Germany to award 5G spectrum directly to industry groups so they can build private networks themselves.

Arnaud Vamparys, the senior vice president of radio networks at France's Orange, said in February that France's decision not to reserve spectrum for industrial use, and instead license it to operators in the usual way, was far better than Germany's approach to reserve valuable 5G spectrum for organizations outside the telecom sector.

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— Anne Morris, Contributing Editor, Light Reading

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