A key element of the project therefore involves engaging with community groups, rural organisations, government agency representatives and local authorities from across the UK, helping to demystify connectivity.
As part of this, the project has been running an events series designed to engage with rural communities and help them navigate and demystify 5G, offering practical advice and guidance regards the potential routes and options establishing their own networks - to seize the opportunities of 5G technology.
The workshops have been themed with the first introducing the 5G New Thinking project: its remit and goals. The second turned to financing and explored different routes to financing and how to raise funds for community connectivity projects. While the third delved specifically into the different mobile network options for rural connectivity projects.
Some key principles have been applied across all the workshops: firstly, to keep the discussion as tech-jargon free as possible with plenty of time allocated in each session to questions from the audience. Secondly, to ensure that diverse options are presented with as many real-life examples given as possible.
Mobile Network Operations Workshop
The project held their third Workshop on 17th June 2021 with 53 attendees from community groups, rural organisations, government agency representatives and local authorities. Delegates were welcomed to the event by Bobby Grewal of Cisco.
Dez O’Connor from Cisco then set the scene for the workshop and provided a non technical explanation of the barriers to achieving full mobile coverage in the UK – this included regulation, access to spectrum and the current poor business case of delivering services in rural areas. We looked at the detail of alternative options being considered to aid communities in developing and building their own solution.
Shona Croy from Orkney Islands Council gave a brief presentation on mobile coverage in Orkney, using maps provided by the mobile operators to Ofcom to indicate their anticipated coverage in Orkney. Those maps were then compared against actual on the ground readings using SIM cards to measure signal strengths during a drive around all of the main roads on Mainland Orkney. This showed the disparity between simulation and reality.
Alistair Braden from Federated Wireless gave a presentation on spectrum. An explanation of why spectrum is needed to deliver mobile services, how it was made available to mobile operators through an auction process and changes to the system to allow local access licenses and sharing spectrum currently being trialled. He also detailed how the cost and conditions surrounding accessing spectrum and licenses, including ongoing charges make it uneconomic to deliver to rural areas. Alistair finished by detailing the work Federated Wireless are undertaking through the development of software to assist rural communities and the regulator when applying for spectrum and licenses in the future.
David Owens from Virgin Media (VM) (formerly O2/Telefonica) gave a presentation from the industry perspective. He provided details of VM’s current network coverage and investment plans for the future. He talked about VM’s leading role in promoting the Shared Rural Network project – jointly funded by industry and the UK Government and of VM’s commitment to the 5G New Thinking project trials of neutral hosting in Orkney.
For the second session of the workshop five speakers gave very valuable and diverse presentations of incorporating real life examples of the building and operation of small mobile networks in not spot areas.
First up, Brian Rasmussen of Faroese Telecom gave an overview of the operation of mobile telecoms in the Faroe islands. He provided a brief history of the evolution of telecoms in the Faroe Islands from when the state owned company was first set up, the network build phases to the evolution of a 5G network. As a partner in the 5G New Thinking project he stated the company’s continued commitment to developing services in both Orkney and Shetland should market conditions permit.
Next, Anthony Timson of Wave Mobile provided a presentation on how to build mobile networks in the UK with an emphasis on local solutions to covering current not spots. He provided detail of the building a small network at a busy railway station that at the time had no 3/4G services. He considered what the basic requirement was of the average customer from voice calls to data. Details on how they built such a network using the principles of lowest cost and limited range to cover just the not spot was also described. Finally he provided details of plans to upgrade the network for the future using 5G .
Peter Gradwell of Telet Research gave a presentation on delivering neutral hosting in Chalk Valley. He explained how neutral hosting operates, the business case for operating such a service in any area and their plans to expand their coverage in the future. Peter also commented on the “real life” pros and cons of small network development and the challenges they face.
Brandon Butterworth from Bogons gave a presentation on the Balquidder experience – from building a broadband network and plans to trial a mobile network using 5G. He provided an insight in to the role of the community in developing and driving forward network builds and the risks associated with cost recovery.
The final presentation of the workshop was given by Daniel Heery from the MANY project on the business case for mobile networks. He provided a practical step by step guide on how to develop and build local networks, possible business models and key revenue and capital drivers to ensure viability.
There followed a lively debate from the panel members from the questions raised from the audience. They centred on the topics of spectrum licenses – how difficult they are to get, that the current process in not helpful and admin fees must be reasonable.
The panel gave their views on the roles of the community and the need for good community buy in in an area to improve the chance of successfully delivering local network solutions. They also provided advice on what the community can do themselves and when to call in professional services to support and guide.
We concluded with an overview of the next steps for the 5G New Thinking project, the development of a “toolkit” to aid communities wishing to build local networks and details of the final workshop which was being planned for February 2022.
The slides from the workshop can be viewed here.