January 26, 2022

Guest Blog: Partnerships, their role in 5G rural rollout and in building a digital future for everyone

Author: Andrea Donà, UK Network and Development Director at Vodafone

As a technology, 5G is often touted as one that will particularly support and innovate busy, urban environments – it is a technology built to support massive volumes of connections. This is absolutely correct. In the future, 5G will particularly come into its own, from connected factory machinery to smart city innovations and a more digital healthcare service. 5G will truly revolutionise the landscape for those working and living in urban locations.  

But why should 5G be restricted to our cities and towns?  Surely all that potential can become a force for good in rural environments too.  As a key infrastructure enabler, 5G could create vibrant rural communities, supporting in areas as diverse as employment, agriculture, health, environment, education, and transport.  It is vital that we ensure the benefits of digital are spread evenly throughout the UK, taking every person, every community, and every business into the new era together.  

At Vodafone, we are already investigating those opportunities. In February 2020, we joined the Government-backed, £9 million 5G RuralDorset initiative. Its aim is to understand how next generation connectivity can help people live better, safer and more prosperous lives in rural communities.  

We have recently switched on 5G in the beautiful village of Worth Matravers. Its population of around 600 have now joined its bigger neighbours of Bournemouth and Poole in enjoying some of the fastest wireless data speeds in the county, if not the country. It also gives the partnership the opportunity to look at IoT applications in areas such as remote support for healthcare and real alternatives to fixed-line broadband, taking a technology agnostic approach to digital inclusion.

However, delivering 5G – whether its urban inner-city London or rural Dorset – comes with many challenges. This is why the right regulatory and policy environment is extremely important. The reform of the Electronic Communications Code (ECC) is a crucial step with its potential to facilitate investment in rural digital infrastructure. The ECC needs to be adapted to facilitate the infrastructure rollout we need, and we look forward to the Government’s response to its recent consultation.  

In other areas, current limits on mast heights can also significantly constrain efficient network deployment. It can also be slightly counterintuitive when you are trying to reduce the number of sites in a rural setting. We don’t want to pepper the countryside with mobile sites, in fact, we want to make sure each of our mobile sites offer the greatest coverage possible, so we do not have to. Mast height is a very important factor for this mission.

Knowledge and awareness in relation to health and safety when it comes to 5G, and EMF is also not where it needs to be. As a result, it can drag out lease discussions and therefore the time it takes for us to switch on essential connectivity. Mobile UK continues to be a valuable partner in this education piece, particularly with their #5Gcheckthefacts campaign.

So, I come back to Dorset with my final point. To ensure the UK is not left behind Europe and the rest of the world when it comes to 5G – or 4G for that matter – we need to find opportunities where we can work together. Dorset is proof of that, as is the introduction of initiatives such as the 4G Shared Rural Network (SRN) initiative.  

In the end, the keys to opening up the full potential for our countryside – its residents, businesses, and its contribution to the wider economy – are completely in our hands.  We just need to ensure we have the right policy and investment environment, the right tools, and the right partnerships. This will enable a digital future that is truly for everyone and anyone. Where postcode doesn’t matter and where we can all enjoy a smart, healthier, and greener connected future.

About Building Mobile Britain

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Building Mobile Britain is a campaign created by Mobile UK seeking to work with national and local government, as well as interested industry groups to overcome the challenges we face with expanding the existing mobile networks, while also developing innovative services for customers.

See here for further information - or #BuildingMobileBritain

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