Last year marked the start of one of the most ambitious projects we’ve ever attempted.
We set out to bring connectivity to some of the worst-connected locations in the UK, building test-beds for 5G and wireless connectivity in rural areas of Shropshire, Somerset and the Orkney Islands.
It’s been an incredible journey up to now. We’ve reached many technical milestones, pioneering the use of spectrum sharing, low cost connectivity, and our very own CUPS architecture.
We’ve started to bridge the digital divide, providing some rural communities with internet access for the very first time, and delivering broadcast services to the remotest locations. And we’ve found new ways to connect people, businesses and things – even living things, like cows.
But a big element is about how we bring the project to life. So, in this blog post I’m going to share some of my favourite stories from Phase 1 of 5G RuralFirst.
Cisco Core and CUPS
We were delighted to break new ground with the Cisco 5G Core – achieving a world first by deploying the technology in a rural area. For this reason, the Core has to be one of my highlights of the project.
Designed by the Cisco Customer Experience team, and hosted in the Tier III DataVita data centre, the Core delivers new features to enable low latency use cases.
Within our Ultra Packet Core, the team designed and deployed a world first in rural IoT: a Control Plane and User Plane Separation architecture – also known as CUPS.
By separating out the user plane, we were able to move it closer to the customer, in this case Harper Adams University farm in Shropshire. As the data is processed in a local edge cloud on site, there is less latency across the network – meaning we can support activities on the farm, like drone-machine automation. This was a complex use case to realise, architecting the network in order to deliver ~20 ms latency required for the safe use of an autonomous tractor.
This was a big moment for us, and for the history books, since it marked a significant breakthrough in the scalable rollout of 5G. It’s a world first deployment of distributed CUPS in a rural setting, and it’s also the first example of mobile edge computing being implemented in a rural industrial IoT scenario.
It has even bigger implications for the future: going forwards, businesses will be able to deploy the user plane wherever they need it – a factory site, for example. Having a local edge cloud will reduce latency, making robots faster and more efficient, and improving factory operations.
With 5G RuralFirst, we’re providing a plethora of use cases that will show the industry the potential of this new technology.
Explaining 5G to the world
5G is a complicated subject. So it’s a massive achievement that we managed to distil the convoluted technicality of 5G into four neat and simple animations.
The series of explainer videos fulfil a core part of our mission to help everyone in the UK understand the benefits of connecting our country beyond the city.
After all, if nobody understands 5G, how will anyone be able to take full advantage of it?
When we embarked on the project, I never could have anticipated that we’d develop an app that allows users to connect with a real-life cow and keep track of their movements.
I was lucky enough to be able to visit the farm where our connected cows live – certainly a little different to my usual meeting locations, but that’s what these innovation projects are all about.
I found it fascinating: I saw the robots responsible for milking, the robot that keeps the open-walled cowshed free of dung, and I learned the astonishing fact that happy cattle don’t moo.
Today, our Me+Moo app is a clear project highlight. It demonstrates the potential of 5G connectivity for rural areas by showcasing the way in which sensor technology can gather data about real things – data that can be used to make industries better and more efficient.
The response to the app has been phenomenal. So far, over 11,000 people have connected with their own cow, and we’ve seen Me+Moo covered by press all over the world, including Reuters, CNN, NY Times and BBC Radio.
To find your own farmyard friend, download the app here.
The 5G RuralFirst descended on MWC 2019 en masse, with each hall at Barcelona’s Fira Gran Via housing a member of the consortium.
— Cisco UK & Ireland (@CiscoUKI) February 25, 2019
At our own Cisco stand, we had live demos of the drones from Precision Decisions and connected cows from Afimilk. Team members from the University of Strathclyde were also on hand to showcase dynamic spectrum sharing, and the Agri-EPI Centre demonstrated cattle monitoring. The BBC team were also with us for the week, showing off their advances in 5G-enabled broadcast technology.
We presented the Cisco tech that supports our 5G RuralFirst use cases, including the Cisco 5G Packet Core and IP transport portfolio, with the Cisco Customer Experience team on hand to describe the challenges of designing the 5G Core to support our plethora of use cases.
Mobile World Congress was an ideal opportunity for us to share ideas with our industry peers and generate leads. Government representatives from across Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and the Americas flocked to the stand too, keen to learn more about our groundbreaking project. This meant we spread the news of rural connectivity far and wide – something that we’ve been proud of doing with this project.
Beyond the City
We invited 200 industry figures to our Beyond the City event in the dynamic city of Glasgow, where we discussed the key learnings and celebrated the big successes of the project so far.
We were fortunate enough to be joined by speakers from Ofcom, and the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, alongside representatives from our partners including the BBC, University of Strathclyde, Harper Adams, Afimilk, Scottish Futures Trust and Agri-Epi.
After a quick break, we’re back with our Orkney panel ?
What are the challenges to installing #5G in the Orkney Islands?
Not spots ❌ Extreme weather ?Regulatory issues?
— 5G RuralFirst (@5GRuralFirst) March 28, 2019
And of course, the Cisco team was out in full force, with compelling keynotes delivered by Dez O’Connor and Stephen Speirs.
It was fantastic to share our progress so far with the people who’ve helped us get here. We spoke about everything, from the business value demonstrated in our agri-tech trials, to the importance of innovation in the telecoms industry.
One of the biggest discussions revolved around the unique challenges presented by the environment of the Orkney Islands, where not-spots frequently combined with extreme weather to interrupt our plans.
— 5G RuralFirst (@5GRuralFirst) April 22, 2019
The event ended on a high, with an array of demonstrations and videos of the test sites, including the 5GRuralFirst radio trial hosted by the BBC, alongside the connected cows courtesy of Afimilk and Agri-EPI, and a 5G network slicing demo which we carried out with partners Zeeta and DataVita.
Keep looking beyond the city
For me, the ultimate highlight of the 5G RuralFirst project has been the collaboration within the consortium. All of the partners have come together around a shared goal: unlocking the huge potential of rural areas.
We’re privileged to be working alongside an incredibly diverse mixture of start-ups, businesses, academics and government organisations. Co-innovating with the farming community in particular has been a new experience, which I’ve learned a lot from and enjoyed hugely.
I’m really proud to see all that we’ve achieved together, especially as it puts us in a great place to keep going.
We’re invested in creating lasting change for rural communities. So now it’s time to put our learnings into practice, to continue demonstrating the enormous potential of the UK beyond the city.
Now: Time for Phase 2!