Conference at Lancaster University reveals how 5G technology could revolutionise rural areas

Drones counting sheep and augmented reality tourism guides were among the projects showcased at Lancaster University, demonstrating the potential for 5G technology to transform rural life.

The event heard about research projects which had explored how 5G could boost agriculture, tourism and help connect remote communities to superfast broadband.

The trials had been developed by 5G Rural Integrated Testbed (5GRIT), a partnership of SMEs and universities, funded by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

In one project drones had been used for ‘precision farming’ with the ability to gather data to show farmers where precisely in a field they had the best crop performance.

It was also used to identify and count sheep and cattle as well as highlighting where lame livestock might need help.

Ian Williams-Wynn, 5GRIT drone research lead, said the project had achieved world firsts with a drone being controlled hundreds of miles away in Kingston University and delivering data back to a farmer within an hour.

Stephen Leese, 5GRIT Precision Farming lead, said the research suggested that this data-driven approach could increase profit margins on arable land by £92 a hectare, adding that 5G could provide wider social benefits to communities where rural isolation was a growing problem.

“If you ask somebody about 5G in urban areas they might say it is a better version of 4G that lets you download Game of Thrones in seconds. In rural areas it changes people’s lives,” he said.

The conference also heard how 5G had been used in Alston to enable tourists to use apps to learn more about the area and interact with its history including augmented reality which brought historical characters to life on people’s smartphones.

James Boot, 5G programme developer at the DCMS, praised the projects for helping to demonstrate the business case for 5G in rural areas, adding: “The Government’s support for 5G includes proving the demand for new uses that will incentivise investment in rural areas. We want the UK to be a world leader in 5G technology.”

Project partners on 5GRIT included Quickline, Lancaster University, Kingston University, Cybermoor, North Pennines AONB Partnership, World Around Me, Precision Decisions, and Blue Bear Systems Research.

Daniel Heery, co-ordinator of the 5GRIT projects, closed the event with a call for delegates to build on the potential that had been demonstrated by the research: “Let’s work together to exploit the potential of 5G to make rural communities fairer and better-connected societies.”