UK consortium 5G RuralFirst announced a next-generation mobile network in the Orkney Islands had received 1 million access attempts, a feat it said demonstrates demand for the technology in rural parts of the country.

In a statement, 5G RuralFirst, which is led by Cisco and part funded by the government, explained the network was recently installed to support specific trials. LTE handsets in the area that could not find a signal from their home service provider would try to connect to another available network, which was in this case the 5G RuralFirst network.

5G RuralFirst said attempts to connect are logged but not accepted, and “provide an insight into the extent of the coverage gap experienced in parts of Orkney Islands”, where radios are serving the trials.

Not spots
The consortium, which includes the University of Strathclyde, revealed its plans for the area in November 2018, stating it would use 5G to maintain Wi-Fi on ferries; provide coverage in tourist areas; protect children’s health; and monitor a fish farm.

Its main aim was to provide coverage to areas not covered by mobile networks in the country. The Orkney Islands were selected as one of three testbeds for the 5G RuralFirst project and, while its population is relatively small, “the industry that area supports far outstrips current connectivity capability”, the consortium stated.

Greig Paul, senior researcher at the university, said the number of access attempts was a “great proof point for the 5G RuralFirst project as we continue to build the business case for rural 5G”.

“One of the broader aims of the project is to demonstrate that 5G is about connecting people and things, and that there is a big opportunity for mobile service providers delivering connectivity to rural areas,” he said.

The development follows the news that UK’s four major operators, 3 UK; EE, Vodafone; and O2 UK, are looking to set up a new company to address rural coverage.