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British Army opts for wifi with five-year BT deal

UK incumbent BT has bagged a Wi-Fi deal with the British Army that paves the way for what it calls 'smart bases'.

Nick Wood

June 23, 2023

3 Min Read
BT British Army wifi
BT British Army wifi

UK incumbent BT has bagged a wifi deal with the British Army that paves the way for what it calls ‘smart bases’.

The multi-million-pound contract will see BT Business deploy managed wifi networks – which it refers to in this case as MOD Wi-Fi – at 162 sites. Access points will be installed in every building, including offices, hangars, training facilities, and workshops. Accommodation, recreation and mess halls, dining areas and sports facilities will also all get MOD Wi-Fi.

This contract adds to the networks – including wifi networks – that BT already manages at 200 Ministry of Defence (MoD) sites in the UK, Cyprus and Germany. It also paves the way for potentially extending the deal to Royal Air Force (RAF) and Navy sites too.

What with it being the Army, security gets a mention early on in the announcement. The networks will come with a managed firewall as standard, should anyone be tempted to open a dodgy-looking email attachment from a Mr. V. Putin of Moscow, Russia, for instance.

MOD Wi-Fi will also be used to connect smart devices like surveillance cameras and building entry systems.

A point worth touching on is that the Army has opted for wifi here rather than private cellular. Despite the additional security benefits of using licensed spectrum and a private core network – plus the potential for new and exciting use cases promised by technologies like multi-access edge computing (MEC) and cloud-native networking – there is clearly still something to be said for the simplicity of wifi, and the relative maturity of the technology and the hardware ecosystem.

Indeed, a large part of the MOD Wi-Fi contract revolves around providing soldiers with a reliable means of staying in contact with family when deployed in remote locations. Once again, wifi’s simplicity lends itself well to this.

In addition, every penny spent by the MoD is scrutinised, and it usually comes in for stinging criticism whenever a whiff of wasteful spending is uncovered. Splurging taxpayer money on newer tech like private cellular is presumably perceived as higher risk compared to buying and installing hundreds of wifi access points.

That’s not to say that private cellular networking isn’t in the pipeline though. As part of its ongoing digital transformation programme, called THEIA, the Army, along with BT, has been using its base in Larkhill, Wiltshire as a testbed for more advanced networking tech, including fibre broadband and private 5G.

Various use cases are being tried out, including HD cameras and sensors, facial recognition, smart building entry and management, secure printing, and digital signage to relay tailored messages to different audiences.

“The opportunities and threats posed by digital technology mean the Army needs the most reliable and secure networks possible – and we’re proud to be a trusted partner that can deliver for them. This new managed Wi-Fi service from BT will provide important connectivity across areas of training, business and welfare,” said Ed Stainton, director of major government at BT.

“Crucially, the contract will also lay the foundation for Front-Line Commands to introduce smarter ways of working, unlocking the benefits of new technologies on MOD Wi-Fi that will provide efficiencies, enhance productivity and increase security,” he said.

“We are thrilled to partner with BT for the Army Estate Wide Internet work – which will deliver ubiquitous internet access across our estate – for business use, research, leisure, gaming, innovation, trials and more,” added Major General John Collyer, Director, Information for the British Army. “Another leap forward, and I thank the staff of BT and in Army HQ for their Herculean work getting us to this stage. It will make a huge difference for our people and our outputs.”


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About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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