Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

5G RuralFirst has laid firm foundations for the future of 5G

October 16, 2019


Innovation projects are, by their nature, finite affairs – insofar as they come with a set end date.

But this is often by design: the challenge of time and funding constraints provide the pressure under which true innovation can crystallise.

The 5G RuralFirst project has been no different. It began 18 months ago with an impressive mandate: to demonstrate the impact and opportunity that 5G could provide in some of the most remote parts of the UK.

The project was originally intended to last for just 12 months, but after a year of work we still had more to explore.

Our application for extra time and funding was granted, and we were able to spend another six months exploring the possibilities of what can be achieved with this technology.

In that time, we’ve pioneered new technologies, greeted ministers, pitched up at countless events and summits, connected cows, played host to the world’s media, braved some wild weather, influenced Ofcom, and somehow found time to eat and sleep in between.


Breaking new ground

Whenever Cisco gets involved in an innovation project, we want to be able to commit to doing something that’s genuinely new, something that moves the story forwards. We want to achieve world firsts.

This project was rich with such moments; and I was personally proud to see Cisco introducing two new solutions for the first time.

Firstly, the deployment of our Ultra Packet Core with Control Plane and User Plane Separation (or CUPS) represents a significant breakthrough for delivering 5G to all corners of the UK.

The Core has allowed us to bring live traffic to our test sites across the UK without losing precious latency. It’s a system built to fit the unique characteristics of the tough environments our project has focused on – and has pioneered a way forward for bridging the digital divide.

Secondly, Orkney played host to a first-of-its-kind trial of Cisco’s OpenRoaming technology.

OpenRoaming allows people to move seamlessly between Wi-Fi hotspots and, in Orkney, has demonstrated the positive impact that this level of connectivity can offer locals, visitors, and business owners on the islands.

For me, this is what innovation projects are really about: not just proving something can be done, but showing how it can be done, and illustrating exactly why it’s important too.


It takes a village – to complete an innovation project…

As with any of the innovation projects we’ve been involved in, this has been much bigger than any individual partner’s involvement. 5G RuralFirst has been defined, as much as anything, by its wide-ranging, collaborative team effort.

There have been too many contributions to call each one out individually here, but I feel it’s important to acknowledge the combination of expertise, coordination, passion, and patience that have enabled us to get to this stage.

Installing the project infrastructure and keeping everything on track has taken a huge amount of effort and dedication – not least from those who faced the elements in Orkney to get their job done.

Being able to move 5G forward from hypothetical conversations to actual, real-world working examples of the impact this technology can have in our rural communities has been one of the project’s defining successes.


Impacting the narrative around 5G

Perhaps most rewarding is when you see the impact that your efforts have had.

The principle of spectrum sharing has been at the heart of our project since the very beginning.

To see a powerful regulator like Ofcom recognise our work and adopt a policy that makes more spectrum available for communities, industry, and businesses throughout the UK has been humbling and inspiring.

Such a result is testament to the hard work and dedication of everyone who played a part in this project. And we’ve worked hard to make sure that the world knows what’s been pioneered in Orkney, Shropshire, and Somerset.

The BBC, Economist, Bloomberg, Reuters and more have covered our efforts.

Our Beyond The City event in Glasgow earlier this year brought together more than 200 experts from the field to share their thoughts about how to make the most of the opportunity 5G offers.

Me+Moo, the app that connected members of the public directly with the cows on our Somerset farm, demonstrated the unique power of 5G without getting tangled in jargon.

And more recently, Tapestry, a new piece of music composed by Orkney-native Erland Cooper for the project, incorporated connectivity and community to create a sonic portrait of the archipelago.

To be able to engage with such varied audiences when telling our story has been vital to ensuring an enduring legacy for this project.


A lasting legacy

The 5G RuralFirst project ends as one of the most successful we’ve been involved with, and as a blueprint for how to carry out co-innovation projects.

I am sad to see it come to an end, I’m incredibly proud too – and look forward to seeing the lasting effects of this project’s pioneering impact.

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