SoilEssentials have won (as part of a large consortium) a new 10-month project to put rural communities and industries first, called 5G RuralFirst. The project is being run by Cisco, with some of the other organisations involved being Agri-EPI Centre, The BBC, Microsoft and Nominet.

The project kicked off in June and is a UK government-funded testbed to help the UK take a leading position in 5G, enabling some of the UK’s disconnected, remote and rural communities to be the first to benefit from the technology. The project is specifically focused on ensuring that agriculture and rural needs are addressed during the implementation of 5G in the UK and precision agriculture is obviously high on the list of industries that would benefit from high bandwidth, low latency rural communication. Testbeds and trials for the project will primarily be based on the Orkney Islands, Somerset and Shropshire.

Geographically, at the moment, only 63% of the UK has mobile data coverage from all of the four main providers, yet recent research highlights that increased usage of digital technologies in rural communities represents tens of billions of pounds’ worth of opportunity for the UK economy.

This is the challenge that 5G RuralFirst aims to help solve. It was announced by the UK Government Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as a co-innovation project between industry, government and academia as part of the recent 5G testbed and trial competition to help position the UK as a global leader in 5G. As such, it will explore the benefits of 5G for rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities. It will also look to address the barriers to, and build the business case for, investment in 5G rural deployment.

5G is not just faster 4G. It aims to be the foundation for much of the technology that we are involved in now and will be in the future.

The project will look to support and inform the development of the UK’s 5G eco-system so that it is able to address the needs and aspirations of rural communities and businesses in ways that 4G, 3G, and 2G have not been able to do.

Here are examples of  key use cases describing the possibilities of how 5G could be used and adopted to allow change and progress to happen:

Smart farming in partnership with Agri-EPI Centre72% of the land in the UK is utilised for agricultural production, and the agri-food sector is an important contributor to UK Gross Value Added (GVA over £112b per annum). The trial will help provide significant opportunities to transform UK agriculture into a smart, high-tech industry, through innovations in sensors & remote diagnostics, data collection, UAV’s (drones), wider precision farming techniques and autonomous vehicles.

IoT in Utilities and Environment Management – Electrical utilities and energy providers (wind, wave and solar), water companies, environmental monitoring, oil and gas industries – all have requirements for both general reliable data communications alongside low bit-rate, but high reliability and high security data communications for IoT (Internet of Things) in very remote areas. This will be addressed via network slicing and network edge data aggregation for 5G networks, alongside coverage trials and investigation.

Broadcast radio delivered over 5G with the BBC – the BBC believes internet-based delivery will become increasingly important to broadcasting. It will use the 5G testbed on Orkney to trial the capabilities of 5G to deliver traditional radio and new forms of BBC audio content over these new technologies.

The SoilEssentials role will be twofold:

  • We will survey the agricultural industry UK-wide to discover what each rural business needs from 5G. Businesses will include farmers, agronomy companies, tractor and machinery dealers, land agents, estates and any businesses using precision ag or managing land.
  • Integrating and evaluating 5G testbeds into our existing projects and development plans. For example – Grassvision and Blightsense.

Obviously rural connectivity is at the heart of everything we do. Hopefully this project will demonstrate the need for agriculture and rural businesses to be considered first when planning the rollout of 5G in the UK.

The project website is:

The official project announcement can be found here:

17 July 2018 News Research & Projects

Peter Chapman, South Redbog Farm
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