The projects, or in some cases, at least aspects of them, have left the trials stage and become fully fledged businesses.
There is, however, a problem. Having shown what 5G can do, demonstrated use cases and developed technologies, now many people will want to use it. That’s fine for the vast majority of people, but not for everyone. Some live in not-spots, areas of poor coverage, usually rural. Projects such as 5GRIT and 5G RuralFirst have shown the immense value of advanced communication in rural settings, but high bandwidth needs the kind of frequencies that don’t travel very far, and they therefore need a lot more infrastructure. Some surveys say that only 67 per cent of the nation has good 4G coverage.
Both co-operation and innovation are needed to crack this problem. The government has two solutions: the Shared Rural Network and the Rural Connected Communities (RCC) project. The Shared Rural Network involves the four major mobile-phone operators working with government to share their cell sites where there is poor coverage and to build new ones jointly. This is funded jointly by the networks and government. It involves a lot of money, over £1bn between all the parties.
The second approach is more akin to that used in the phase one projects: look for small innovative teams to build solutions at a local level. Here there is a £30m fund, which again has to be matched by the participants. This is aimed at a similar number of consortia to the number involved in the phase-one trials but with the single-minded aim of easing rural connectivity. At the announcement last year, Digital Secretary Nicky Morgan said:
“We’re investing millions so the whole country can grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next-generation 5G technology. In modern Britain people expect to be connected wherever they are. So we’re committed to securing widespread mobile coverage and must make sure we have the right planning laws to give the UK the best infrastructure to stay ahead.”
Much like that of the phase one trials, the emphasis is on developing new solutions and learning about the technology. The projects need to be designed to improve the case for investment in rural network deployment by testing new commercial and technical solutions for more efficient deployment of advanced network infrastructure. The projects are as much about use case as just delivering connectivity, and they need to be done to incentivise investment in rural areas.
To support the projects there is the government’s Barrier Busting Task Force, which will play a key part in reducing costs and friction during deployment of the new generation of mobile, in particular regarding mast height and planning permission. While the R&D of the Rural Connected Communities projects is more development than research, there is an aspiration for the teams to include elements of new radio-access technologies and systems that will be important for 5G (such as massive multiple-input, multiple-output, self-optimising networks, beam-forming, mmWave and mobile-edge computing), with them explaining where the innovation lies and that there should be significant, but not exclusive, use of 5G New Radio capabilities.
RCC is not designed as a network roll-out programme, but as a series of trials and testbeds to de-risk and inform future network roll-out programmes. But as with the phase one trials, the hope is that these will graduate from the trials stage and become fully developed businesses.
This article was first published by CWJ Press as part of a series of UK5G Magazine specials comissioned by DCMS. You can access the digital version here.
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