Over £5.7M in grant funding from the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition will revolutionise the way people experience live sport at the Stadium of Light and esports at the British Esports National Esports Performance Campus in Sunderland. 

One of 19 projects benefiting from today’s Government announcement of an £88 million investment in innovative open 5G connectivity solutions across the UK, the state-of-the-art ‘Sunderland Open Network EcosysTem’ (SONET) Project is led by Sunderland City Council and a consortium of partners – Boldyn Networks, British Esports, Sunderland Football Club and Perform Green – who are harnessing next generation technology to enable more engaging interactions, enriching the future of live-streamed football and live global esports events.

This means faster, more reliable 4G and 5G mobile connectivity at the Stadium of Light and the new British Esports National Performance Campus in Sunderland. Visitors to these venues will be able to stay connected and benefit from more interactive, digitally enabled facilities and services. This can include enhanced ticketing processes to make entry easier and quicker, smart venue navigation to make it easier to find your seat or facilities and speeding up the browsing and ordering of food and beverages. 

With the lightning-fast speeds and low latency of 5G technology, esports enthusiasts and sports fans alike can anticipate more reliable connectivity and immersive, real-time engagement. The high-speed connectivity promises seamless live streaming and interactivity of esports tournaments and live sporting events. Fans can witness every moment with real clarity, engaging in real-time statistics, augmented reality enhancements, and even virtual meet-and-greets with their favourite players.

These new digital techniques will enhance fans’ experiences, for example using augmented reality that can overlay real-world views with digital information such as, real-time identification of players, key moments and stats, or virtual reality that puts fans in an artificial but realistic 3D environment. 

Enhancing the experiences of tens of thousands of visitors attending football matches, live concerts and esports tournaments is a great extension to Sunderland’s leading smart city infrastructure and the city’s superfast 5G connectivity.

Furthermore, SONET will dramatically reduce power consumption through a much smaller footprint, positively contributing to Sunderland’s purposeful drive towards net zero across the city. 

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business.

“In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network.

“The projects we’re backing today with £88 million in Government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adoptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.”

Liz St Louis, director of smart cities and enabling services at Sunderland City Council, said: “Enabled by grant funding from the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition, we are delighted to launch the SONET Project.

“This innovative project will create a more immersive and engaging experience for Esports players and fans at British Esports new National Esports Performance Campus in Sunderland, as well as evolving the football ground of Sunderland FC, the Stadium of Light, to meet the needs of future generations, by providing engaging event content and interactive digital experiences.

“With no other esports venue in the world matching SONET’s unique Open RAN infrastructure, National Esports Performance Campus will lead the way globally, significantly contributing to the UK’s capabilities.”

Claire Venners, general manager at Boldyn Networks North, added: “The Sunderland Open Network EcosysTem’ (SONET) Project is set to transform the way we engage with live sports and Esports. By leveraging Sunderland’s advanced smart city infrastructure and the high-speed 5G connectivity that Boldyn is deploying, visitors attending football matches, concerts, and Esports competitions will benefit from a large capacity network that will deliver reliable, high-speed connectivity.”

SAFC’s Chief Operating Officer, Steve Davison, commented: “This is fantastic news for the City of Sunderland and Sunderland AFC. We are a modern and progressive organisation constantly seeking new ways to embrace innovation and technology, and the SONET Project will unlock immense potential when considering our in-stadium experience. 

“An aligned approach from all stakeholders continues to ensure the City of Sunderland sets the standard nationally and from concerts and events to live sport, this latest transformative milestone will allow us to take further immense strides forward.”

Barney Smith, founder of Perform Green, said: “SONET will transform the fan experience for users of the Stadium of Light and advance the capability of British eSports in the North East using Open RAN technologies at scale and high density.”

“I’m immensely proud of British Esports and our partners for securing the SONET 5G bid in Sunderland.” added Chester King, CEO, British Esports. 

“This signifies a monumental leap forward for our new arena, part of the National Esports Performance Campus. With the power of 5G connectivity, we are poised to redefine the future of live esports and sports experiences. 

“The Arena (opening Q1 2024) will become a centre for cutting-edge technology, offering players, fans, and enthusiasts an unparalleled environment for growth, engagement, and innovation. This milestone not only cements our commitment to the esports community but also reinforces our dedication to driving progress in the industry, both locally and on a global scale.”

The funding for the SONET Project forms part of the Government’s Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) £250M Open Networks R&D Fund, which is aimed at tackling the key barriers facing the adoption of open mobile networks. 

The 19 successful projects in the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) Competition will demonstrate the reliability and feasibility of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies and showcase their role in delivering resilient and future-proofed connectivity to UK citizens and businesses.

The ONE competition helps deliver on the UK’s ambition to be a global leader in telecoms research and development, through investment in cutting-edge open hardware and software.

The ONE competition was designed to demonstrate how this new way of building mobile networks can deliver fast, dependable connectivity in busy places – such as Sunderland’s iconic sports and entertainment venues – where many people need wireless connections. Instead of using only one company’s equipment, Open RAN enables different companies’ technology to work together, which can make the network better and more flexible.