Rural communities have been invited to “seize the opportunities of 5G technology” by grabbing a slice of a new £30 million fund to run innovation trials.
Nicky Morgan, the new digital secretary, said countryside communities must share in the advances on offer because “in modern Britain, people expect to be connected wherever they are”.
She said up to 10 rural locations could run trials to use mobile network speeds 10 to 20 times faster than currently on offer anywhere.
“The British countryside has always been a hotbed of pioneering industries and we’re making sure our rural communities aren’t left behind in the digital age,” she said.
“We’re investing millions so the whole country can grasp the opportunities and economic benefits of next generation 5G technology.”
The secretary of state also announced proposals to “simplify planning rules” to improve rural mobile coverage under permitted development rights.
The package would allow for taller masts, existing ground based masts to be upgraded for 5G and for building masts closer to roads, plus the deployment of radio equipment cabinets without prior approval, excluding on sites of special scientific interest.
Morgan added: “In modern Britain, people expect to be connected wherever they are. So we’re committed to securing widespread mobile coverage and must make sure we have the right planning laws to give the UK the best infrastructure to stay ahead.”
The Rural Connected Communities competition is the latest wave of £200 million funding for 5G trials across the country.
The deadline for applications is 25 October, with the winning projects expected to be announced before the end of the year.
The consultation on the planning changes will close on 5 November, seeking evidence from industry, communities and other stakeholders.
Access for all
Mark Bridgeman, deputy president of the Country Land and Business Association, said it welcomed the “promise of internet access for all”.
“The current situation, where only 67% of the country can access a decent signal, is unacceptable and government is right to focus on planning reform as a means to removing current barriers,” he said.
The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport cited examples of where the technology is already being used: in the Orkney Islands to remotely monitor salmon fisheries and improve the efficiency of wind farms; and in Shropshire for targeted crop spraying and soil analysis with drones and tractors.
Image by Row 17, CC BY 2.0