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Trucks on a container ship

Exploring new ways for 5G to boost business

The West of England Combined Authority led a consortium of 12 partners, including The Bristol Port Company and the University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab, to demonstrate how 5G can increase efficiency and productivity for the logistics sector. By supporting smaller players to develop tailored 5G private networks and services, we are helping to diversify supply - meaning our businesses can take up these game-changing communications networks sooner.

The project was one of 22 projects funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) under its 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, which supports innovators exploring new uses of 5G to help improve people's lives and boost businesses.

Alex Mavromatis, IoT Solution Architect, University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab

Using a combination of 5G-enhanced location services and the Internet of Things, the University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab is improving on current GPS tracking of goods within the 5G testbeds at Bristol Port and Gravity Smart Campus in Somerset.

By setting visual catchment zones or geo-fences and connecting sensors that monitor the precise location and conditions in shipping containers, we can offer the logistics sector more oversight and, therefore control over goods in transit.


Professor Andrew Potter, Logistics and Operations Management,  Cardiff Business School

Being customs free-zones, it's important that port operators really keep a track of where products are both within the port and also going between different sites. This is to ensure that customs duties are paid at the right time. Beyond freeports, however, there is also a need for port operators to provide value adding services.

With the global pandemic, and also changing trading relationships, the public now sees the value of reliable supply chains. Ports have digitalised immensely over the past 20 years, and what 5G offers is a further step change in that. It will allow greater automation of processes and also more visibility of both resources and cargo.


John Chaplin, Director of External Affairs & Special Projects, The Bristol Port Company

Enhanced 5G will have a tremendous impact for the local and regional economies. The availability of more data and customers having certainty over the location, position and condition of their cargo moving in and out of Bristol Port and to local distribution centres will be a tremendous benefit.

The security of the cargo that passes through The Bristol Port Company’s two ports, but above all, the safety of our dock workers is really important to us. We are fortunate to have our own police force to manage this.

They are supported by the emergency services, but it's a really tough job operating in an active ever-changing working environment.


Jeff Foreman, Police Chief, Port of Bristol Police

Being responsible for policing and security matters across two busy international docks, presents several logistical challenges for my team.

Autonomous drones will allow us to quickly gain high quality CCTV at any location. That, together with the ability to deliver life-saving and emergency equipment, will enhance our capability and capacity.

I am confident that these 5G drone trials will contribute to our vision of being the UK leader in delivering port safety and security.


Jackie Davies, Traffic Control Service, Bristol City Council

Slow acceleration by HGVs can cause problems for existing smart traffic management systems. Meaning HGVs receive a red light when they should be seeing a green signal. It's a phenomenon called ''gap out.'' It creates frustrating delay, unnecessary congestion, causes air pollution problems and wasted fuel.

Through The 5G Logistics project, Bristol City Council is working with Yunex Traffic to figure out whether 5G could provide a solution. Where there is a 5G private network to connect to, the solution could provide a way to reduce HGV congestion around ports, enterprise zones and distribution centres.


Mick Goulding, Commercial Director, Cellnex UK

A key objective of the 5G Logistics project was to build a fully open radio access network, contributing to making the 5G market more diverse and allowing UK companies to meet the growing demand for private networks that offer unparalleled opportunities and secure communications for business.

And thanks to the ingenuity and problem-solving of our consortium, we have created just that in the project staging lab.

How will 5G private networks transform business?

Ship in a port Image credit: Bristol Port Company

The value of 5G for logistics

Three use cases demonstrated the potential of 5G in a logistics environment:

  • Security, traceability, and real-time tracking of goods – with applicability in a Freeport and Freezone scenario
  • Autonomous drone flights for port surveillance and emergency response
  • Improvements to road traffic management through 5G smart junctions, easing congestion and reducing air pollution around ports and Enterprise Zones.

The network

The 5G Logistics testbed operated in and beyond the West of England, with a primary test zone at Bristol Port and a secondary test zone covering a nearby junction. The third area was 45km away at the Gravity Smart Campus in Somerset (acting as a Freezone). The three areas were connected by fibre to create a super-fast and secure private network.

The project trialled mobile edge computing (MEC) – an alternative to cloud computing. This, coupled with 5G’s ability to handle huge amounts of data, enables faster communications speeds, increased security and the potential to tailor the network to meet numerous business needs at once – creating new opportunities for ports, Enterprise Zones, business parks, local authorities and (eventually) smart cities.

Bristol Port Image credit: Bristol Port Company

Expected benefits

While the 5G Logistics project proved a technical concept, its results could be built on to deliver a number of benefits to the logistics sector, region and beyond in the longer term:

  • Efficiency, reliability, security and accountability improvements to the logistics sector and customs operations
  • Opportunity for ports to become freeports in partnership with remote sites (freezones), opening up new economic development opportunities
  • Improve road traffic management and improve air quality for all
  • Transform the nature of port jobs, reducing repetitive tasks, growing digital skills and retaining workers
  • Improve response to incidents in hard-to-reach places – saving lives and reducing damage or theft of goods
  • Increased local 5G and smart city expertise – bringing business, universities and public bodies together to deliver digital infrastructure fit for the future
  • Supporting emerging players in the UK’s 5G marketplace to increase choice for our businesses
  • Establish the West of England as a world-leader in the development of advanced fixed and mobile communication systems
  • Attract new economic opportunities and jobs – for instance high-value advanced manufacturing reliant on state-of-the-art connectivity.

Connecting The Bristol Port Company site to Gravity with a secure and hyper-responsive communications network is highly attractive to advanced manufacturing companies considering the region – potentially generating thousands of jobs. The 5G network could enable the tracking of critical manufacturing components within the busy sites, but also support the construction of the factory itself as well as the day-to-day management of it.


  • DCMS funding (used): £2,453,660
  • Total project value: £3,979,524


  • January 2021 – June 2022

The private 5G network was live for two months while the project ran its trials.


Public bodies

  • West of England Combined Authority
  • Bristol City Council


  • Cardiff University
  • University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab

End users / testbed hosts

  • The Bristol Port Company
  • Gravity Smart Campus
  • Maritime Transport


  • ADVA
  • Airspan
  • AttoCore
  • Cellnex UK
  • Unmanned Life

5G logistics FAQs

Eleven 5G New Radios (NR) formed the 5G testbed:

  • 5 within Bristol Port (Avonmouth), including:
    • 1 macro tower (3 radios)
    • 2 small cells
  • 3 small cells on the junctions surrounding Bristol Port
  • 3 small cells at the Gravity Enterprise Zone site, Somerset

Small cells are wireless transmitters and receivers designed to provide network coverage in smaller areas while the reach of ‘macro’ towers is larger. 5G New Radio (NR) utilises a wider bandwidth and more efficient transmission techniques than technologies such 4G LTE, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allowing it to deliver increased data capacity and faster speeds.

The model of the radios was Airspeed 1900, operating using 3.8-4 GHz radio frequency.

Fibre optic cable linked the 5G testbeds at the port and Gravity.

A 5G Internet of Things (IoT) router bridged data from sensors and location tracking equipment with Mobile Edge Computing (MEC), delivering real-time transmission over the 5G radio network.

All technological components used in the 5G Logistics project that were already on the market met UK safety standards. Technologies developed or trialled through this project were created to meet UK safety standards and will be tested to those standards ahead of becoming commercially available.

No Huawei technology is being used in this project as the supplier is considered a High Risk Vendor by the UK Government.

According to the Government and Ofcom’s 5G Mobile Technology: A Guide, all frequencies used for 5G fall within the part of the electromagnetic spectrum classed as ‘non-ionising’ radiation. This means that these radio waves do not carry enough energy to directly damage cells.

The Government takes its guidance from the UK Health Security Agency (HSA), the body tasked with protecting our health and wellbeing. Anyone concerned about the safety of 5G is encouraged to read this guidance. HSA endorses the international guidelines for limiting exposure to radio waves, published by the International Commission for Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). ICNIRP is formally recognised by the World Health Organization (WHO).

In its guidance summary, HSA writes:

“It is possible that there may be a small increase in overall exposure to radio waves when 5G is added to an existing network or in a new area. However, the overall exposure is expected to remain low relative to guidelines and, as such, there should be no consequences for public health.”

In May 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) produced guidance stating:

“There is no evidence of a link between 5G and coronavirus. These theories have been rejected by scientific experts in the World Health Organisation and Full Fact, a UK-based independent fact checking charity.”

Further reading

West of England Combined Authority: a regional government body bringing together three local councils: Bath and North East Somerset, Bristol and South Gloucestershire. The Combined Authority led the delivery of the project, reporting to the project funder, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).

ADVA: a telecommunications vendor providing network equipment for data, storage, voice and video services. ADVA is led on the development and delivery of the project’s optical switching multi-site gateway.

Airspan: a 4G/5G Radio Access Network (RAN) hardware and software vendor with a strong research and innovation division. Airspan provided the project’s all-in-one gNodeB solution and Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) and 5G radios, antennas and software for the project’s distributed units (DU) and centralised units (CU). Airspan also hosted the project’s staging lab in its Slough premises.

AttoCore: an SME that develops ultra-mobile core network software technology that can be deployed in consumer, professional and enterprise scenarios. AttoCore provided the 5G Core and slicing capability, allowing the neutral hosting of several logistics services over one private network.

Bristol City Council: the local government authority for the largest city in the West of England region, with an estimated population of 463,400 and one of the ten ‘Core Cities’ in Great Britain. The council is leading on the 5G-enabled smart junction use case, supported by sub-contractor Siemens (Yunex Traffic).

The Bristol Port Company: represents the Avonmouth and Royal Portbury docks and offers shipping, distribution and logistics services. It is a major economic driver for the region, with the company and businesses on the port estate contributing more than £1bn to UK GDP. The port hosted the project testbed’s main 5G private network and trials for the geo-fenced asset tracking and autonomous drone surveillance use cases.

Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University: the Logistics and Operations Management department of the Cardiff Business School investigated the wider applicability of the project’s 5G use cases across the port and logistics sector and led the 5G Smart Ports collaboration with the 5G Ports project (also part of the DCMS 5G Testbed & Trials programme).

Cellnex UK: Cellnex is Europe, and the UK’s largest and fastest-growing independent owner and operator of wireless telecoms infrastructure and is integral to the successful roll-out of 5G. The provider led on the project’s 5G neutral private network design, integration in the staging lab and deployment in the field.

With the wireless infrastructure foundation it delivers across rural and urban areas, Cellnex UK connects everyone, everywhere. Its networks and solutions are built to be fit for now and the future so that the UK can prosper. Cellnex UK is a business built on commercial and technical innovation, ambition and sustainable growth. It offers customers the commitment to neutrality and the economic benefits of shared infrastructure.

Maritime Transport: independent transport operator, providing full end-to-end logistics solutions across the UK. Maritime Transport provided a truck and driver for the project trials.

Gravity: a property management company developing a 616 acre state of the art smart campus and Enterprise Zone, primed to bring tens of thousands of jobs to Somerset and the surrounding regions – including the West of England. The site hosted a secondary 5G private network linked to the main port network via fibre and acted as the remote ‘freezone’ in the project’s freeport scenario.

“Gravity aims to become the UK’s leading Smart Campus for some of the World's most innovative Clean and Inclusive Growth companies. It will be the South West’s and potentially the UK’s largest single commercial development bringing forward a substantial amount of new employment floorspace to meet a new era of market needs in response to climate change. Its delivery will be a clear and substantive example of SDC’s [Sedgemoor District Council] long-term commitment to securing higher level economic-led growth and the district’s leading role in the Somerset and the wider South West economy, showcasing delivery as part of the UK’s Industrial Strategy and transport decarbonisation plans.” Gravity LDO Consultation (2021)

University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab: brings together more than 200 experts across the boundaries of wireless, networks, photonics and beyond to address grand societal and industrial challenges. The lab aspires to become a world leader in communications and digital living research. Leading on the geo-fenced asset tracking (freeport) use case, the university drove the project’s architecture development and was key to network troubleshooting.

Unmanned Life: is striving to become a go-to software platform for the seamless orchestration of autonomous robotics. Unmanned Life led the port drone surveillance use case, providing an AI-driven autonomy-as-a-service platform.

Since the project ended on 30 June 2022, The Bristol Port Company, Gravity Smart Campus and prospective occupiers have shown interest in maintaining and possibly building on the 5G private network. The port and the University of Bristol Smart Internet Lab are exploring further research opportunities.

Some technology used in the smart junction use case, specifically that which can still deliver traffic management improvements irrespective of 5G, will remain in place. 5G learning from the use case is being used to develop Yunex Traffic’s FUSION traffic management solution for local authorities.

If you or your organisation want to learn more about the project or wish to get involved in future 5G projects, please contact the project team on: