Two consortia have won government funding for rural area projects from a £25 million pot designed to test the feasibility of 5G connectivity roll out into the UK economy.  The work aims to help the UK become a leader in 5G while enabling some of its disconnected, remote and rural communities to benefit from the technology.

Ofcom data shows that only 63% of the UK has mobile data coverage from all of the four main providers, at a time when “increased usage of digital technologies in rural communities represents tens of billions of pounds’ worth of opportunity for the UK economy”.

Cisco is leading a consortium of 32 partners, some with agricultural expertise, in the 5G RuralFirst pilot which has won £4.3m funding.

Project testbeds and trials will take place in rural areas of Shropshire and Somerset and on the Orkney Islands.  The Agri-EPI Centre, one of the four catalyst centres set up through the government’s Agri-Tech Strategy, is involved from the “smart farming” angle.

“The UK agricultural community is under pressure to produce more food, with less labour and less impact on the environment,” says chief executive of the Agri-EPI Centre Dave Ross. “Drones, autonomous vehicles, robotics and remote sensing and diagnostics will significantly change how we farm in the UK, but this innovation will only be possible if network connectivity in our rural areas is dramatically improved. Through a series of trials conducted by our 6 SME Agri-Tech partners, 5G RuralFirst will prove what would be possible in our agricultural sector and we hope will lead the way for investment and development in rural network connectivity and associated Agri-Tech services.”

Other 5G Rural first consortium members include BT, Microsoft, Harper Adams University, Milkalyser, Kingshay, Afimilk, Precision Decisions, Soil Essentials and Hyperceptions.

Quickline Communications is leading the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT) project which has secured £2.1m in funds. It will trial 5G technology across rural applications such as smart agriculture, tourism and connecting poorly-served communities. It aims to make high quality connectivity available across Cumbria, Northumberland, North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Inverness-shire, Perthshire and Monmouthshire.

Steve Jagger, managing director of Quickline and a former chief executive of Woldmarsh, says: “We feel that 5G can unlock the potential of rural areas through better connections for residents, businesses, farmers and visitors. Our consortium brings together innovative businesses and leading Universities to make the 5G dream a rural reality. The consortium will develop 5G-ready augmented reality (AR) apps for tourists and investigate how high-bandwidth wireless connectivity can increase food production in farming, including through use of AR and an unmanned aerial system.”