5G signal boosters have been put in council offices, libraries and lampposts to improve connectivity for homes and businesses, in a government scheme backed by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA).

Leaders said they’re ready to take the next steps in the £4m Digital Connectivity Infrastructure Accelerator (DCIA) project, which has seen c350 sites identified for mobile infrastructure across Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland, South Tyneside and Sunderland.

They’re working closely with businesses, communities and industry partners to identify areas which will benefit from additional mobile capacity to improve the experience of mobile access in the North East.

Dejan Bojic, who leads the DCIA programme for the new Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT), said the collaborative relationship between businesses and the public sector had been key to the project’s success.

He said: “We all use these wonderful devices; we use smartphones, our businesses rely on connectivity, so being able to connect devices, sensors, cars, vehicles, trains, is so important for our daily lives.

“We are building a partnership between the telecoms industry and the local authorities across the UK to make the process of building those networks and creating connectivity much easier.

“We’re engendering much closer dialogue between the two, first with industry by asking where they need to go to fulfil our needs and demands for connectivity, then with the public sector partners to say we have these places; let’s work together.

“Now we need more demand from industry.  We need industry to come in and tell us where they want to deploy and what networks they want us to build, so we can build more connectivity for everyone.”

Beginning in February 2022, the DCIA project has seen eight pilots and numerous early adopters from across the UK come together to work alongside the four major Mobile Network Operators and other partners in industry.

‘It has enabled local councils to share information with mobile telecoms operators to see what infrastructure was available – such as streetlights, tall buildings and pockets of unused land – that could help them broaden their coverage and reach.

Funded by DCIA, the North of Tyne-led Future Connectivity Partnership has made it easier for businesses to reach commercial agreements allowing the roll-out of 4G and 5G, to enable the North East to retain its position at the forefront of digital innovation and connectivity.

This acceleration and standardisation made it cheaper for operators and communities to deploy digital infrastructure, meaning homes and businesses will benefit from faster and more reliable mobile coverage sooner than would be expected, and reducing the need for new masts which can often take longer to build and set up.

North of Tyne 5G and Future Connectivity Lead Janet Ross said building a strong connectivity network was central to making the region a great place to live, study and work by future proofing the economy, improving access, tackling inclusion, and enabling innovation in local services.

She said: “This is all about accelerating the rollout of digital infrastructure to strengthen our growing tech and digital cluster.

We’re in a prime position because we own a lot of assets including streetlights, street furniture, buildings, and land and these are all assets which are highly in demand from the mobile infrastructure providers.

“We match those assets with locations our deployment partners or the telecoms industry needs; it’s a perfect combination.”

The Future Connectivity Partnership includes five LAs and is part of a wider programme of work to improve digital connectivity in the North of Tyne, Sunderland and South Tyneside. They met with DCIA partners at The Catalyst in Newcastle this week to look back at programme successes; sharing learning and best practice; and to celebrate all that has been achieved.