Cisco UK & Ireland Blog

Weaving together the future of connectivity – Tapestry: Sounds of a 5G Orkney

September 30, 2019

Certain places have a special significance for the tech industry.

Geneva will go down in history as the place where Tim Berners-Lee created the World Wide Web and CERN’s Large Hadron Collider continues to test our understanding of particle physics.

Bletchley Park will always be the hallowed home of artificial intelligence, and Silicon Valley will be remembered for the numerous digital disruptors it has produced.

Now we can add the Orkney isles to this list.

This remote archipelago ranks as one of the most under-connected areas in the UK. In a world where connectivity is key to everyday life – in and outside of work – this poses challenges and is simply unfair when you consider the level of connectivity in urban areas.

But things are changing. Over the last couple of years, Orkney has been the site of the UK’s most ambitious 5G trials as Cisco has led a project to deploy next-generation connectivity in a number of use cases across the islands – including tourism, agriculture, renewable energy and media and communications.

And now, as we reach a cornerstone moment in the trials, it’s only right that Orkney takes its place in the history books, and is recognised as a pivotal place in the development of 5G.

Demonstrating the power and impact of 5G

When we began, our goal was to demonstrate the potential of 5G to connect communities as well as devices and technological things.

We believe 5G can change the way people live their lives. The technology can and should be used to build connections between communities. And it’s imperative that this impact is felt not just in urban areas, but across the entirety of the UK.

It is this idea that inspired our new project – Tapestry: Sounds of a 5G Orkney – a way of showcasing all that is great and good about Orkney, including the technological innovations that have been delivered by the 5G RuralFirst project

Tapestry is a piece of music inspired by the sounds of a 5G-connected Orkney, created by Orcadian composer Erland Cooper.

It’s named ‘Tapestry’ because this is exactly what it is: a layering of all the different sounds of the islands, brought together by the people of Orkney and the power of 5G.

We started by inviting local Orcadians to send us the sounds they felt encapsulated their homeland. We received all sorts of audio, from bees to bagpipes, all of which you hear in the finished track.

Our 5G use cases were also part of the sounds we recorded at these locations. The sea farms, for example, contributed sounds of the salmon cages. While the noise of the connected wind turbines has formed the rhythm behind Tapestry.

We combined these sounds alongside our own field recordings at test site locations like Skara Brae, the Scottish Sea Farms and Hammars Hill wind farm.

We also placed remote mics around the island, used 5G to transmit live sounds of Orkney directly to Erland Cooper’s London studio in real time, so he could be inspired by the noises of the isles while he worked on Tapestry. In this way, 5G was both the subject and the vehicle for the track.

The result is a sonic portrait of Orkney; a unique way to showcase the work of 5G RuralFirst and reach a broader, mainstream audience than we can achieve when we focus on the bits and bytes alone. The project has demonstrated what 5G can do and has shown how a 5G connection can make a positive difference to life in the Orkney islands – delivering for businesses and the community overall.

Connecting a community

The technological achievements of this trial are something everyone at Cisco are hugely proud of. But we’ve also been blown away by the way it has impacted the community itself – a community everyone involved in the trials has come to call its own.

Throughout the project, we’ve focused on rural industries that make a big contribution to the UK but are sometimes the unsung heroes of our economy and our culture. From salmon fishing to whisky production and renewable energy – these industries are part of the fabric of the UK and will be for years to come.

We’ve used 5G to amplify local voices and sounds that would otherwise go unheard, and then reach people in new ways. For example, we recently had a listening party in St Magnus Cathedral for the local community to experience Tapestry for the very first time.

We were thrilled at the response it received, especially as so many people said it really reflected Orkney as they know it.

Ultimately, it’s been wonderful to spend time in Orkney, undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places in the world.

Its remoteness and wildness have, as you’d expect, been a challenge at times, but this is the reality of much of the UK and it is exactly why Orkney was the perfect place to trial 5G technology.

As a society, everyone – from government to technology companies – has a responsibility to ensure all areas of the UK are connected and able to use technology to benefit their lives, businesses and culture. Innovation like this has to be accessible to everyone or it will never reach its full potential.

The trials have proven that 5G can have a huge impact and I’m genuinely proud to have been part of celebrating Orkney and showcasing the power of 5G.

To read more about 5G RuralFirst and Tapestry, visit Sounds of a 5G Orkney


Leave a comment