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Innovation Briefing Issue 9 | Project Roundup: 5G New Thinking

  • 3 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 19 May 2022
  • Last modified 26 Apr 2022
Empowering communities to take control of their connectivity was the New Thinking that drove the project.

It brought together a consortium of organisations from across the public, private and academic spheres. They worked closely with people living and working in the Orkney Islands, the Borderlands, and Northern Ireland to understand their needs in order to provide them with the practical tools, services, support, and guidance they need to consider building and operating their own next generation communications networks.

New Thinking is designed specifically to make this next generation of connectivity not simply possible for rural communities, but a practical, financially sustainable reality – and one that they can have autonomy over.

The aim of New Thinking was to produce a toolkit for rural communities that wish to establish sustainable 5G connectivity in their area.

The toolkit serves as a practical guide for these communities, providing them with the tools and confidence they need to take control of their connectivity. With a focus on remote and rural areas, it illustrates all aspects that communities need to consider. It contains new ideas for business operations, financing models, applications and services developed within the New Thinking project trialled in Orkney. This includes options for technology and architecture choices, but also goes far beyond this. The toolkit includes: sections that guide communities through the aspects of deploying a network, such as spectrum sharing; business case and business model support, to understand how to build a sustainable rural network; financial model options, building on the work of community financing for renewable energy assets; it covers the commercial relationships between local independent networks and the big MNOs. Perhaps most importantly, it includes that all-important ‘know-how’: the things you didn’t know you didn’t know, from spectrum licencing to planning to community engagement.

You can’t build such an ambitious project without the goodwill and sincerest effort of a range of partners and stakeholders. New Thinking has been very fortunate to have a wonderful set of core partners based around the Orkney Islands. They came together in the very first wave of 5G Projects to build the ground breaking 5G RuralFirst demonstrator.

Building on this working partnership were Cisco, the University of Strathclyde, Shefa (Faroese Telecom), CloudNet (the incumbent Wireless Internet service Provider on Orkney), the Orkney Islands Council, and (on the use-case side) the BBC and the Agri-EPI Centre.

This core team was augmented with the additional capabilities needed to round out the concept from demonstrator to replicable model with the toolkit. This included New Thinking’s friends from across the pond, Federated Wireless, who brought tremendous experience and capability in spectrum sharing and community use cases. This meant adding Pure Leapfrog as a community investment specialist, to advise on how communities should think about financing models. New Thinking needed Neutral Wireless and Bogons to bring real world experience and know-how to the challenge of community 5G. This meant adding new partners who could bring further evidence of the use cases and enthusiasm for rural connectivity. This included Zoetis, the largest global animal health company. It also included the Universities of Glasgow and Surrey, to bring in further cutting-edge thinking. Finally, New Thinking needed other local communities to validate the approach: Borderlands Council and the Rural Community Network in Northern Ireland provided this.

The findings from the project are captured in the Toolkit: the main purpose of the project has been to codify learnings and approaches. Financially sustainable community networks are hard to build, but 5G gives us a stronger chance than we have ever had before.

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