Cisco this week launched an ambitious rural 5G trial in the British Isles that includes 29 wireless industry partners to test enhanced mobile broadband, optical wireless (LiFi), radio broadcast over 5G, and agri-tech. The trial is part of Cisco’s 5G RuralFirst initiative to contribute to the business case for improving connectivity beyond cities.
The 5G project, partly funded by the U.K. government, stretches across 2,000 square kilometers (772 square miles) in and around the Orkney Isles, focusing exclusively on underserved areas termed “not spots.” The trials will also reach from the Orkney Isles north of the Scottish mainland to Somerset in southwest England, a distance of more than 1,000 kilometers (621 miles).
“This is a huge project,” wrote Stephen Speirs, an advanced services product manager for Cisco, in a blog post. “Developing nations are challenged due to the cost of investment required” for 5G, Speirs said. “However, even in developed countries like the U.K. and even the U.S., lack of pervasive high-speed internet access and pervasive mobile coverage is challenging both industry and government.”
Speirs suggested the potential for 5G and IoT in a rural setting could be used for autonomous drones to map crops to increase yield, autonomous tractors that work around the clock, broadcasting radio and TV in remote locations, and even monitoring the health of salmon.
Among the 29 partners involved, there are 10 equipment and radio vendors. Parallel Wireless radios are being deployed by CloudNet IT Solutions to seven “not spots” in the Orkney Isles to provide the first mobile internet access in those areas. Cisco’s Ultra platform and UCS servers will be used as well as its 5G NSA Core and its 5G transport gear. The project will also make use of 5G network slicing.
“Based on sheer square miles, this is possibly the largest test for a 5G rollout, but there are plenty of urban 5G smart city projects that would be equal or greater,” said Vernon Turner, chief strategist at Causeway Connections, in an email. He said there is “little doubt” that 5G technology will support the use cases being envisioned, but the project is more of a test of the business model, profitability, government subsidies, and partnerships needed for 5G success.
“Cisco has been knee-deep in 5G for several years … based on their assumption that 5G will give service providers segment routing as a cost-effective way to deliver packet technology,” Turner added. “This involves Cisco being relevant at the multi-edge compute through to the network data center where emerging capabilities driven by NFV will give service providers the ability to slice the network based on metrics such as quality of service.”
Photo Courtesy of Cisco.