What is the 5G promise?
There’s been a lot of promises about 5G made in the past year. You can’t visit a news site without hearing about how 5G is going to make everything better. From downloading your favourite film in seconds to VR enabled surgery, 5G offers faster and more efficient services. Everyone from consumers to businesses will be able to benefit from the technology.
So far, so good then?
The problem with many of the promises made is that they often only apply to urban environments that have the required connectivity and infrastructure in place. The promise does not stretch as far as rural communities, which struggle to even reach 4G standards in many instances.
But the truth is that the 5G promise is not only valid for urban environments, it can actually be fulfilled just as impressively in rural communities. Especially as 17% of UK economy comes from rural areas and 27% of Scotland’s comes from rural areas.
This is crucial as 5G should not be something that only makes a difference to some people, it should make a difference to everyone. But for this to be successful, then we need to be involving rural communities now and not putting them behind in the queue.
The grass is just as green on the other side
Agriculture in the United Kingdom uses 69% of the country's land, yet the majority of people live in more condensed urban locations. One of the reasons that connectivity has been an issue in rural areas is that there has not been the necessary financial incentives for companies in place. With 3G and 4G, the benefits of faster data uploads and downloads are attractive for consumers, but often not applicable to industrial technologies. This means that many companies have focused on delivering better connectivity to cities where there is more data to work with.
This is where 5G is different. In the 5G era, we are not only looking at connecting people, but millions of sensors covering everything from farmland to livestock. This means that businesses are not just counting people to connect, they are counting every single thing that generates data.
The difficulty is gaining the knowledge of these new potential applications, then showcasing the potential for 5G to make a real difference. It’s one thing to have all of this data, but what can we do with it?
As part of the DCMS funded 5G testbeds and trials programme, 5G RuralFirst is looking at the specific applications of 5G in rural locations, through a series of trials in Orkney, Somerset and Shropshire across industries including agriculture, broadcasting, tourism and utilities. The purpose has been to show the value for everyone from the end-user to the mobile operators.
5G can make a difference now and the future
Rural communities are facing a series of challenges across their councils, local businesses and daily lives of citizens. From shrinking government budgets to increasingly stretched resources on farms, any way in which costs can be saved and efficiencies gained needs to be explored and implemented. This will not only benefit these communities, but the UK as a whole.
The first phase of our trials showed that 5G can be one of the solutions to these challenges. We saw the potential for it to power drones capable of analysing soil nutrition in real-time; the BBC broadcast in on the 5G Rural First network for the first time in Orkney; farmers monitor livestock through connected collars; and the world’s first deployment of a CUPS based packet core, which has implications for rural deployments of IoT globally. These have shown that the promise of 5G is not something that is going to take years to realise, but something the industry can act on now.
There is still a lot of work to be done if we are to fulfil the 5G promise, but we know that it’s a promise that can be kept.