5G holds particular promise for boosting download speeds, lowering latency, and laying the foundations for improving connectivity for billions of devices. 5G RuralFirst was funded by the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport (DCMS) as part of their wider 5G Testbed & Trial programme and UK-wide 5G strategy.
The ambitious £7.6 million project was intended to create complete end-to-end rural 5G systems to enable innovative network technologies, spectrum sharing, applications, and new business models.
The key focus of the 5G RuralFirst project was to test and demonstrate innovative approaches to ensure 5G connectivity is accessible and affordable in remote rural areas across the UK. The project also addressed the needs and aspirations of communities and businesses throughout rural areas in ways that 4G, 3G, and 2G had not previously been able to do.
At its South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset, one of the project’s testbeds, Agri-EPI Centre used a 5G enabled drone, equipped with multispectral imaging, to analyse grass across the farm’s 42 hectares of grazing fields. The 5G RuralFirst project helped to deliver an alternative to the more conventional means of measuring the quantity of grass available in the grazing area and the potential to measure grass feed quality as well.
Rural areas notoriously suffer from weak, or even no, mobile signal and broadband connectivity, which makes download speeds and data collection much slower. An unreliable connection and the cost of technology to boost signals has a profoundly negative impact on rural businesses and industries.
5G RuralFirst pioneered new approaches in the deployment of 5G connectivity in rural areas, so organisations and communities could evolve and build more efficient business models.
This impacted nation-critical industries that operate in rural environments such as, agriculture, tourism, renewable energy and manufacturing. Even simply trialling 5G RuralFirst in some of the most remote and demanding environments in the UK was a challenge.
To date, 5G RuralFirst has successfully implemented 5G solutions across seven key areas:
- Industrial Internet of Things (IoT)
From using 5G smart parking systems to avoid traffic in tourist hotspots to 5G-connected sensors to manage environmental conditions in salmon farms, 5G RuralFirst combined hardware with internet connectivity to optimise complex digital processes.
- Community and infrastructure
5G RuralFirst successfully installed 5G-connected sensors to enable remote monitoring of water temperatures to maintain the required health and safety standards in remote Orkney-based communities.
5G RuralFirst is testing whether 5G can deliver and broadcast radio and TV across a variety of challenging environments. A key part of this is exploring business model viability.
- 5G Cloud Core Network
The 5G Core Network will provide improved levels of connectivity, greater capacity, alongside reduced latencies (delays) and faster sharing needed for technology and real-time use cases to run smoothly.
- Dynamic spectrum sharing
Spectrum sharing will promote competition, encourage investment, and use of high-speed data transfers throughout the UK. The 5G RuralFirst project aimed to investigate the feasibility of dynamic 5G tech initiatives in rural areas.
- 5G access technology
5G RuralFirst has installed test equipment to trial an experimental method that uses light to transmit data in place of radio waves or fibre cables. Orkney’s variable weather patterns make the islands the perfect location to develop a solid understanding of how this technology works in practice.
At Agri-EPI’s South West Dairy Development Centre testbed in Somerset, a 5G enabled drone equipped with multispectral imaging is used to analyse grass across 42 hectares of grazing fields. Precision grazing helps to ensure grasslands are well-managed to provide the most economic amount of feed resources throughout the year for livestock production.
5G RuralFirst demonstrates the partnership potential of 5G in rural areas to governments, policymakers, mobile network operators and other service providers. The initiative encouraged more long-term investments, while educating rural communities on the personal and professional benefits of 5G.
The 5G RuralFirst project also benefited from high profile marketing and attention. A new film produced by Cisco in conjunction with BBC Storyworks describes how 5G-connected technology is being tested at Agri-EPI Centre’s South West Dairy Development Centre in Somerset.
To find out more about the impact of the 5G RuralFirst project, explore the extensive list of use cases within each of the seven projects on the 5G RuralFirst website.
The project duration was between 01/04/2018 to 31/09/2019.