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Angus Council broadband project to use farms for infrastructure

08/02/21

Mark Say Managing Editor

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Angus Council is taking part in a project to use farm buildings as foundations for masts to provide wireless broadband connectivity around the county.

Wireless mast

It is working with wireless solutions provider Rapier Systems and internet of things (IoT) specialist SmartRural on a proof of concept project covering 100 square miles in a triangle between the towns of Brechin, Montrose and Arbroath.

Installations of fixed wireless access technology are scheduled for 22 farms to begin before Easter and be complete by the third quarter of the year, with the potential to extend the scheme around the county if it proves successful.

The project also involves installations at rural primary schools in the county, reflecting the council’s priorities of providing them with high speed connectivity.

This combines with the aim of providing better connectivity to farms. Paul Lindop, project manager at SmartRural, said they will receive free broadband as part of the deal, providing the scope for them to start making use of agricultural IoT technology.

He added that the project is being funded with around £500,000 from the Tay Cities Deal, and that it is thought to be the first of its kind.

Core, LoRaWAN and 5G

It will provide Angus Council with a core 10Gbps network, a long range wide area network, and have the capacity to carry 5G small cells, software defined radio for neutral hosting, and granular hosting for the Shared Rural Network or Scotland’s 4G Infill programme.

The network will also provide an infrastructure for broadband providers to offer services to local residents and businesses.

Lindop said: “This is genuinely unique in terms of the collaboration and the offering that emerges – being as far as we are aware the first genuine delivery of connectivity ‘from the outside in’ – as oft mentioned in the UK and ScotGov Digital Strategy documents, but never delivered.

“The core is that the parties are playing to their strengths – contributing a critical part of the picture and getting back the value that they are looking for.”

This involves the council providing funding, SmartRural offering site acquisiton as a service and Rapier systems handling the deployment of fixed wireless.

“Rural IoT is not a straightforward business proposition, but we believe that the UK supply chain – hardware and software – has the capability to deliver solutions and access viable business streams if they are prepared to work with us to define and deliver what is needed,” Lindop added. “The Angus deployment presents the opportunity to address this at a meaningful scale.”

Low cost, high speed

Richard Watson, managing director of Rapier Systems, said: “Making use of existing built infrastructure keeps the cost down, speed of deployment up and the connectivity speed up. In most cases we will be able to deliver around 10Gbps between farms and other backhaul locations, much more quickly than fibre and without the disruption and associated costs.”

Angus Council leader, Councillor David Fairweather, said: “Being digitally connected is key to staying in touch with loved ones, working from home, and is essential for local businesses, so it’s great to see Angus Council alongside SmartRural and Rapier Systems, making this investment to ensure superfast internet speed becomes a reality for our Angus citizens. 

“Thanks to the Tay Cities Deal funding, this opportunity can happen much more quickly, short cutting what could have been a long process. I know our rural communities, schools and businesses will be delighted, not only to get the connectivity they need, but also much sooner than expected.”

The council has been building local connectivity through other projects, notably acting as anchor tenant for a full fibre network being delivered by Openreach. It will involve installing connections to 53 council premises.

In addition, by mid-January 17,485 premises in the county had been connected to fibre enabling infrastructure under the Digital Scotland Superfast Broadband programme.

Image from iStock, Anucha Cheechang

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