INTERVIEW: Virgin Media O2 head of strategy, innovation and 5G IoT Sandeep Raithatha claimed private 5G capabilities had fundamentally transformed industrial operations at a global scale, as he opened up on the operator’s efforts to deploy the technology across various business verticals.

In an interview with Mobile World Live (MWL), Raithatha branded private 5G as an enabler of Industry 4.0, opening up the doors to smart industry.

“Private 5G networks provide the underlying connectivity required for digitalisation, shifting [industrial] processes from manual-oriented labour”, in addition to technologies including Automated Guided Vehicles (AGV) and AI data processing within industrial sites, he explained.

The executive named ports and factories as areas which were quick to adapt to the technology, while the healthcare sector has recently shown major progress in its digital transformation journey.

Raithatha said the operator had already invested millions in 5G. But, unlike commercial networks, private wireless can really “play to its strengths” when it comes to supporting businesses as it provides industry-grade coverage and real-time information for mission-critical services.

Connected health
To mark the 74th Anniversary of the NHS in 2022, Virgin Media O2 launched what it touted as the UK’s first 5G-connected hospital using private wireless for two healthcare facilities in South London.

“The greatest value and impact driven by private 5G is what we call connected worker, which is probably the most popular use-case in private networks,” he said.

Other benefits include ensuring health assistants are getting information to the right systems in real time, Raithatha explained, adding the technology also plays a pivotal role in managing physical assets in healthcare facilities.

Sweet deal
Deployments of private 5G in manufacturing have been common in recent years, with rival operator Vodafone UK sealing a deal with Ford Motor Company in 2020 and BT closing a multi-million pound partnership with Ericsson to offer private 5G to UK businesses.

As for Virgin Media O2, Raithatha pointed to a deal with British Sugar in early 2022 which paints a picture of what “factories of the future” will look like.

In collaboration with Nokia, the operator switched on a multi-site private 4G network in four UK manufacturing sites.

“We activated the network one site at a time, the last activation being in Q3 2022, so now all the sites have gone live,” Raithatha said of the seven-year project.

Raithatha added Virgin Media O2 is engaging with potential customers for its next enterprise deal, but did not reveal names.