5G RuralFirst looks at smart farming, spectrum sharing and broadcasting

Cisco has revealed more details and partners for a project that will look to determine the benefits and business case for the use of 5G to solve rural connectivity challenges.

‘RuralFirst’ was one of six 5G projects to receive a grant of up to £5 million from the government and will see 32 organisations hold trials across an end-to-end testbed located in Orkney, rural Shropshire and rural Somerset.

All three locations will be linked to Cisco’s 5G cloud platform through a data centre in Glasgow and the testbed will trial new wireless and networking technologies, spectrum sharing, applications and services, and business models, tackling industries such as agriculture, broadcasting and utilities.

Cisco said that 5G could address many rural issues in a way that 2G, 3G or even 4G have been unable to until now.


“We have the ambition, the innovative heritage and the expert ecosystems to shape the UK’s digital future, but to do so we have to address fundamental issues like making internet connectivity work for everyone,” declared Nick Chrissos, director of Innovation at Cisco Europe.

“5G RuralFirst looks to help close the digital divide in the UK. To uncover the opportunities and challenges faced in 5G deployment, and to ensure that it can do what other generations have yet to. It’s not only about implementing the right technology in the right way.

“It’s about designing networking technology intelligently from the very start. Giving careful consideration to critical issues like security; which becomes even more complex when you are connecting everything from drones to autonomous tractors.”

The BBC will see how 5G can be used to deliver radio broadcasts, while the University of Strathclyde will investigate dynamic spectrum sharing to see how automatically assigned bandwidth can lower the cost of applications.

Smart farming trials will see drones and connected vehicles deployed, while a utilities trial will look at how the IoT can monitor energy networks. Other participants include BT, Microsoft and Lime Microsystems.

The government hopes the UK’s research base and startup community will allow it to take a leadership role in 5G. The first commercial 5G networks are expected to launch in Britain in 2020.

“New technology has the potential to transform business and society and we’re determined nowhere in the UK will be left behind by a 5G future,” said Margot James, minister for digital and the creative industries. “These testbeds will show how our rural communities can harness the power of this revolution in connectivity, bringing benefits across agriculture, industry and wider society.”

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Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.