Skip navigation

Smart Rural

“The UK Government is committed to eliminating the difference in connection between urban and rural areas whilst exploring innovative ways to use 5G technology to develop emerging industries, supporting our rural economy.” – Simon Hart, Secretary of State for Wales

The UK is one of the world’s wealthiest economies, but there is a gap between those parts of the country doing well and those that aren’t. Closing that gap has rightly become a national priority. Rural and coastal areas, particularly in the north, have missed out on much of the economic and productivity growth of recent decades. Ericsson welcomes the current focus on “levelling up” across the UK’s nations and regions. We believe that 5G can be a key enabler of the levelling up agenda.

Bridging Britain’s geographical divide

The COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that comprehensive network coverage is indispensable. Yet according to Ofcom, just 10% of the UK has access to gigabit broadband providing speeds above 1 Gbit per second, while only half of properties are covered by ultrafast connections with download speeds above 300 Mbit/s – in both cases largely concentrated in urban areas. While 95% of premises have access to superfast broadband offering download speeds of 30 Mbit per second, this is unlikely to be sufficient as bandwidth usage continues to grow and economic activity increasingly shifts into the digital sphere.

In short, rural areas have not benefited from digitisation and enhanced connectivity to the same extent as urban areas, often due to the technical and economic challenges of fixed broadband deployment. This digital divide has had profound implications for social cohesion, economic growth and the distribution of wealth and opportunity. Ericsson therefore supports the government’s focus on expanding access to gigabit connectivity in the UK, including its commitment of substantial financial resources to support rollout in the most difficult to reach 20% of the country.

This will not be possible without 5G. As a practical and cost-effective alternative to fixed broadband deployment, 5G fixed-wireless access (FWA) in rural areas can provide households with the ultrafast or gigabit connectivity needed to thrive in today’s digital economy. The government’s £5 billion commitment to fund gigabit-capable deployment in the hardest to reach 20% of the country is an opportunity to invest in UK FWA.  

Cluster Use case Environmental benefit from 5G connectivity Social benefit from 5G connectivity
Smart Rural 5G FWA Reduced journeys (e.g. working remotely plus connectivity in rural transport corridors) Social inclusion/reducing the digital divide

Slow or reverse rural population declines

Support for rural businesses to operate digitally
  Agriculture Increased efficiency/lower carbon farming Sustained rural industries

Ability to market products beyond local area

Social and environmental implications of 5G-enabled smart rural (Source: Analysys Mason)

Smarter agriculture

5G will also provide the springboard for the digitalisation of agriculture – otherwise known as smart farming – that will underpin the future competitiveness of the UK’s agricultural sector. Thanks to its greater bandwidth, low latency, and increased capacity and reliability, 5G will enable farmers to automate and remotely control their systems and processes.

5G does this by connecting a myriad of sensors which can be used for a variety of purposes, from monitoring livestock to collecting real-time data on soil and crops conditions as well as temperature and humidity. This promises to both unlock more productive and sustainable agricultural practices and support the regeneration of struggling rural areas across the UK.

Analysys Mason estimates that 5G will generate £2.1 billion in net economic benefits by enabling “smart rural”. The study estimates the costs of deploying the additional 5G infrastructure needed to enable these new use cases, namely smart agriculture and FWA, and compares this to the expected economic benefits.