Orkney beats UK’s biggest cities with 5G trials

Orkney beats UK’s biggest cities with 5G trials

child plays with 5G handset

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Children at Stronsay junior high school turn out to be big fans of the BBC’s Asian network over 5G

The UK’s first 5G network gets switched on today, in London, Edinburgh, Belfast, Manchester and Birmingham.

It is only available to EE customers prepared to buy a new phone and pay £54 a month for access.

But a few users in Orkney, farmers in Shropshire, and some cows in Somerset have been using 5G for months.

The trial – part funded by the UK government – is designed to make the case for investment in areas without lots of customers.

5G Rural First is being delivered by a consortium of more than 30 partners, including tech companies, universities and the BBC.

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Dairy cows on a Somerset farm wear 5G collars transmitting data about their behaviour and health

In Shropshire, researchers have been running what’s known as a hands-free hectare, with a drone and a tractor operating autonomously using data sent over 5G to farm a field.

More agricultural applications in Somerset include a herd of cattle on a dairy farm fitted with collars transmitting information about the cows’ health and behaviour, and running automated milking and feeding.

And in Orkney a range of possible uses has been trialled, including maintaining wi-fi on an inter island ferry, helping to manage numbers at tourist hotspots, protecting the health of children and monitoring salmon in a fish farm and turbines on a wind farm,

In the Orkney island of Stronsay, the BBC has issued special handsets to 20 users so they can receive live and on demand radio programmes in an area with slow broadband speeds and little or no digital radio coverage – a classic “not spot”.

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Twenty participants in Stronsay have been given the special 5G handsets

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Thirteen BBC radio stations have been broadcast over 5G in Stronsay

Anecdotal evidence from teachers at the island’s junior high school – backed up by data from the devices – suggests that teenagers in Stronsay have become big fans of the music played on the BBC’s Asian Network. It is one of 13 BBC stations they can now access – including BBC Radio Orkney.

Others say they have used the handsets as mobile hotspots, giving them access to much faster download speeds for films and music.

But not everyone in Orkney is happy with the trials.

One family have withdrawn their children from school in Stronsay, because the 5G mast has been positioned on the building. They say they were not consulted about the trial, and have not been reassured that it is safe.

Members of a social media group concerned about the effects of 5G on plants, wildlife and the human population have gathered signatures in Kirkwall – Orkney’s main town – for a petition calling for a halt to the trials.

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Masts across Orkney – like this one at Keeleylang Hill – have had 5G equipment installed on them

Orkney Islands council – one of the partners in the 5G Rural First consortium – says it consulted the UK wide regulator, Public Health England, before any work was undertaken.

It says any additional exposure to radiation because of 5G will be well within World Health Organisation limits, so there should be no impact on health.

EE says it is upgrading to 5G in the places where it can make the biggest difference to the most people. That is why the roll out is starting in the busiest parts of some of the UK’s biggest cities.

Critics of the telecoms companies – including Orkney and Shetland’s MP Alistair Carmichael – say that shows the mobile operators have failed to learn from the mistakes made during the rollout of 2G, 3G and 4G, and always leave the hard to reach areas till last.

5G Rural First is an attempt to find other justifications for bringing investment in infrastructure to so-called remote and rural areas.

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