Is 5G the answer to connecting rural communities?

5G is coming. Preliminary rollout of the next-gen mobile communications system is predicted to begin in the latter stages of 2019. The technologies of tomorrow, from self-driving cars to the latest smartphones, will be underpinned by high-bandwidth, low latency 5G connections. Nations across the world are scrambling to ensure that they have the necessary infrastructure in place, and the UK is no different.

According to a 2017 Ofcom report, a mere 63% of the UK “has 4G mobile coverage from all of the four main networks” and this is most noticeable in hard-to-reach rural areas. The UK government is keen for this statistic to change with the introduction of 5G technology and as such, is making a hefty investment when it comes to connectivity in rural areas.

As part of the Department of Culture, Media & Sport’s (DCMS) 5G testbed programme, two government funded schemes are currently in operation trialling the technology in a number of rural settings. These trials aim to assess the feasibility of connecting rural populations to a nationwide 5G network, and the potential the technology has in relation to the industries these rural communities are built upon. Of course, the particular focus here is agriculture, and using 5G to turn farming ‘smart’.

5G RuralFirst is a £4.3m Government funded 5G testbed trialling end-to-end wireless network technologies in rural communities across the UK, with the aim of ensuring that 5G connectivity is not only available, but accessible and affordable for all.

The second testbed, dubbed 5GRIT, is also trialling 5G communication platforms in rural areas. A £2.1m backed fund, this testbed aims to analyse the effects 5G may have upon rural economies; from improving agricultural efficiency with new technologies, to creating innovative new tourism experiences in popular national attractions.

%G in rural areasBoth testbeds aim to ensure that the UK’s rural communities are not left behind, suffering the same fate as many currently do with less-than-stellar 4G coverage, as well as capitalising on the potential boosts 5G can bring to the UK economy through smart agriculture.

5G-fuelled Agritech offers many potential improvements in the agricultural industry. Connected IoT (Internet of Things) sensors could automate irrigation of crops based upon analysing the current air temperature, or test the acidity levels of soil for optimum yield.

Other areas of rural life are set to reap the benefits of the introduction of 5G technology. Connected sensors could aid in the detection of water levels to help combat flood management. Elsewhere, sensors can report on road conditions so that dangerous potholes may be filled on rural roads.

As a follow-on from the DCMS’ 5G testing programmes, the department will also be launching a Rural Connected Communities project in 2019 to help drive demand for 5G coverage and support in rural areas, encouraging resident consumers, enterprises and the public sector to push demand for the service.

The UK Government is keen for the country to remain at the forefront of technological revolution. To keep up in a fast-paced global environment, no area can be left behind. As the future of mobile communication rolls out across the nation all areas could have access to inclusive, next generation 5G technology.

IntechnologySmartCities is committed to ensuring rural towns and villages aren’t left behind. Technological benefits should be inclusive. Our integrated connectivity, data, communications and engagement platform for towns and cities can provide the perfect platform to connect hard-to-reach rural locations, and the infrastructure necessary for the oncoming 5G innovation.

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