£30m rural 5G competition and consultation on rural mobile planning rules announced
Written by: Sam Fenwick | Published:
Credit: Jürgen Diermaier/Pixabay

​Earlier this week, digital secretary Nicky Morgan launched the £30 million Rural Connected Communities (RCC) competition. It will select up to 10 rural locations to run trials of 5G applications for two years – with the goal of stimulating commercial investment in 5G and helping rural Britain to see benefits from the technology.

The funding for the competition comes from a £200 million project to build 5G testbeds across the country. The competition’s organisers are seeking projects that will “trial innovative use cases and technical solutions to build the business case for investment in rural connectivity and explore the capabilities of 5G to benefit rural communities. They will also help demonstrate demand from a variety of economic sectors and rural communities for 5G technologies.”

“Connectivity applications are expected to show a combination of societal and economic benefits that will together create a stronger case for investing in the deployment of 5G infrastructure for rural areas.”

The deadline for RCC applications is 25 October and more information about the competition and the application process can be found here.

The government has also launched a consultation on proposals to simplify planning rules to improve rural mobile coverage. The proposals include:

  • Changing the permitted height of new masts to deliver better mobile coverage, promote mast sharing and minimise the need to build more infrastructure;
  • allowing existing ground-based masts to be strengthened without prior approval to enable sites to be upgraded for 5G and for mast sharing;
  • deploying radio equipment cabinets on protected and unprotected land without prior approval, excluding sites of special scientific interest; and
  • allowing building-based masts nearer to roads to support 5G and increase mobile coverage.

The government is also seeking to hear how the telecoms industry might be able to mitigate the impact of any new infrastructure, including assurances of a greater use of existing sites and the removal of redundant masts.

Morgan said: “The British countryside has always been a hotbed of pioneering industries and we’re making sure our rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age.

“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. And 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.”

Julian David, CEO, techUK said: “5G is an essential component of the UK’s digital fabric. It underpins innovative technologies from drones to AI. techUK welcomes this initiative and sees this Government has long recognised the benefits offered by 5G to businesses and consumers, making considerable investment already in 5G testbeds and trials, including 5G RuralFirst, led by techUK member Cisco.

“As important as the financial support for innovative uses for 5G is, the recognition that the way planning rules are implemented is a big factor in the level of connectivity. I am pleased the Government is now proposing to simplify those rules as they apply to mobile masts in England and urges them to move swiftly to make these changes.”

Hamish MacLeod, director at Mobile UK, said: “The current planning system does not support the fast, efficient rollout of 5G technology that is vital for the UK’s digital economy. We welcome the Government looking at simplifying planning processes to deliver better connectivity, and we stand ready to work in partnership to ensure these much-needed reforms happen as quickly as possible."

Phil Sorsky, vice president, international at CommScope, added: “"We’re currently in the cautious early adoption stage of 5G, and some consumers in the UK have already received a first taste of the tech in specific geographic locations, using certain applications, none of which are ubiquitous or cost-optimised. As such, it is positive to see the Government investing in the commercial applications of 5G in rural areas, as the technology means so much more than just quicker download speeds for consumers in major cities.”

"Connected devices are talking to each other and making decisions without human intervention. As machines become smarter with more data, factories are producing more and becoming more efficient; this process will only be accelerated by the 5G roll-out, boosting the productivity and output of the UK economy and bringing huge benefit to every corner of the country.”

"5G will also begin to enable the wider use of virtual and augmented reality in the manufacturing industry, for example assisting workers with complex assembly tasks and quality control, through lower latency and greater consistency, or assisting utilities workers in remote areas to find a hidden duct or manhole and so making faster repairs. It is crucial that rural areas also have access to this technology, enabling innovation across a wide range of industries.”



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