Lancaster University partner in £6m pilot to boost rural connectivity

A man using a smart phone in a wheat field

Lancaster University experts will help to boost rural broadband in North Yorkshire through one of seven projects chosen in the Government’s national Rural Connected Communities (RCC) competition.

This testbed will explore how superfast mobile connectivity can bring benefits to rural communities in the region. 

The £6m Mobile Access North Yorkshire (MANY) project will use innovative technology to bring mobile connectivity to some areas of North Yorkshire currently missing out. Currently, 35% of the County is without 4G mobile coverage. The project will also test how superfast mobile connectivity can benefit England’s largest rural county in boosting tourism, tackling social isolation and acting as an early warning system for flooding emergencies.

The innovative project is led by Quickline Communications, one of the UK’s largest wireless internet service providers, with the North Yorkshire County Council as a key partner to integrate the project with communities. 

Other partners with Quickline include a mix of specialist small to medium enterprises (SMEs) and the universities of York and Lancaster. The partnership has secured £4.5m of Government funding with a further £2m being added by the industry partners.

The project, which is a continuation of the technical partners’ previous work with the 5G Rural Integrated Testbed project (5GRIT), will investigate how rural mobile connectivity can help eliminate the not-spots of North Yorkshire by developing new technologies, apps and services tailored for rural areas. It aims to understand how the public, private and community sectors can work together to reduce the cost of delivering mobile access in rural areas.

The project is supported by the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, as part of the 5G Rural Connected Communities Trials and Testbed programme. This £30m programme supports national projects to determine how best to use the 5G technology to deliver services across the entire nation.

Lancaster University has a strong track-record in developing innovative solutions to deliver fast Internet connectivity to communities in rural areas. In addition to being involved in the 5GRIT project, Lancaster networking experts achievements also include a project that delivered the first wireless broadband service to a UK rural village – Wray in Lancashire.

Professor Nick Race said: “The MANY project continues Lancaster’s long-standing research into rural broadband, which has helped deliver Internet access to communities in particularly hard-to-reach areas. Within MANY we will be measuring the underlying performance of the 5G infrastructure and its effectiveness in supporting a range of important services for rural communities, including health and wellbeing, tourism and flood detection.”

As well as experts from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, the interdisciplinary project also involves academics from the University’s Management School who will use ‘open innovation’ and responsible research and innovation approaches to include communities in the development of communications networks use cases.

Professor Katy Mason said: “We will be working with multiple communities - local tourism, mental health and wellbeing, emergency services and environmental monitoring communities - to understand their needs and to develop and deliver digital connectivity that ultimately improves North Yorkshire’s economy and society. We want to develop a 5G infrastructure that provides a platform for a flourishing ecosystem to support good rural lives.”

Steve Jagger, Chief Executive of Quickline Communications, said: “Quickline’s mission is to use innovation in equipment and approach to bring ubiquitous coverage of high-speed data and associated services across the harder to reach parts of the country. We are pleased to be part of a project that shares these values and outcomes and are excited by the opportunity to push the boundaries further.”

County Councillor Don Mackenzie, Executive Member for Access, said: “We are extremely pleased to be involved in this important project and look forward to working with our partners to create effective and efficient mobile networks across even our most far-flung rural communities. “We will also explore how, through mobile technology, we can address social isolation, deliver health and wellbeing services, boost tourism and the wider economy and provide early warning around flooding – issues we must address in enabling our rural communities to be sustainable and to thrive.

“Up to 85 per cent of our county is what is classed as ‘super-sparse’. Our population density is five times below the national average and our huge scale gives us particular challenges around digital connectivity and the cost of connecting the hardest-to-reach areas. This project is therefore a very welcome development.”

DCMS Secretary of State Oliver Dowden said: “We’re making sure our rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age. With £4.4 million of UK government funding, this project will help North Yorkshire grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next generation 5G technology.

“We will learn valuable lessons here, that will benefit the whole country, on how 5G can boost tourism, tackle loneliness, support the emergency services network and detect flooding.”

Lancaster University researchers on the project include Professor Nick Race and Dr Matthew Broadbent from Lancaster University’s School of Computing and Communications, and Professor Katy Mason from the Lancaster University Management School.

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