Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

The UK is ready for 5G

March 28, 2018

It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of a new piece of technology, or an exciting innovation that’s going to change the world.

It’s even easier to forget that, nowadays at least, most of these new innovations depend on access to secure and reliable connectivity.

According to Ofcom, only 63% of the UK has mobile data signal from all four of the main mobile operators. It’s simply not good enough.

Beyond everyday irritations like not being able to make simple updates to a company website or share large files, this lack of connectivity represents huge missed opportunities for the uptake of digital technologies that could transform businesses and local economies.

Typically it’s rural and remote areas that have been left behind, yet there’s nothing to suggest that there isn’t a strong use (and business) case for greater mobile connectivity in these places.

It’s these use cases that we’re looking to demonstrate with our latest co-innovation project, and one of our most ambitious and exciting to date: 5G RuralFirst.

5G proves its worth

We’re taking our expertise of running consortium-driven projects along with government and academia, and applying it to help position the UK as a global leader within 5G.

Led by Cisco and principal partner The University of Strathclyde, 32 partner organisations will be exploring the benefits of 5G in rural communities.

Together, we’ll be looking specifically at how the technology can be deployed in industries including agriculture, broadcasting, tourism and utilities.

Ultimately, we want to prove the value of investing in 5G for rural and remote areas.  To do that, we’ll be demonstrating just how life-changing this level of connectivity can be.

Going to the ends of the earth for innovation

But what will this actually look like in reality?

The first stage of the project will involve developing testbeds on which the technology and various use cases can be trialled.

5G RuralFirst will run a testbed in Orkney, an archipelago just off the northernmost tip of the Scottish mainland. Only 20 of the 70 islands in the group are inhabited, providing a home to just 20,000 people and confirming the area’s status as one of the UK’s most remote locations. We’ll also run hubs in the rolling farmlands of Somerset and Shropshire.

Among the many partners involved in the Orkney arm of the project, the BBC will trial the capabilities of 5G to support broadcasting to all parts of the UK – not just its towns and cities.

Faroese Telecom, meanwhile, will be key in bringing its experience of installing networks that offer 100% 4G coverage on the remote Faroe Islands, and pureLiFi (a spinout of the University of Edinburgh) will put its pioneering research into the communication of data through light into practice.

These are just a handful of examples of the innovative technology we’ll be deploying in Orkney, and the islands will also benefit from tests being conducted in Somerset and Shropshire that will focus on use cases within agriculture.

Self-driving tractors, drones and more

Farming and agricultural food production contributes considerable value to the wider UK economy, but total incomes are falling as farms struggle to balance production levels with rising costs.

Our trials will investigate the various ways in which improved connectivity will help the agri-food sector transform itself into a high-tech industry.

Agri-tech start-up Milkalyser, for instance, will be deploying its automated system to measure progesterone levels in cows, which helps predict ovulation and provide an optimal timing window for artificial insemination.

Agri-EPI Centre, meanwhile, will play a key role, too, in bringing its years of experience in R&D and business incubation in the world of precision agriculture and engineering technology – everything from cutting-edge sensing and imaging technology to robotics.

We’ll be testing innovations like autonomous tractors and drones, and looking at how sensors, diagnostics and the implantation of data analytics can add precision and efficiency to farming techniques.


Our findings will help drive 5G innovation and economic activity from Orkney to Somerset and beyond.

Image credit: via Flick (CC) John Lord

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