BBC to extend rural coverage in world-first 5G trial

Mark Johnson's picture
by Mark Johnson

The BBC said it will pioneer live radio broadcasts over 5G mobile networks in the first public trial of its kind. The ground-breaking trial in Stronsay, Orkney, could help the BBC reach more people in rural areas in future.

The trial will run for an initial six weeks with potential to extend and is part of the wider 5G RuralFirst initiative, where several other trials will also explore the potential of 5G for rural businesses and communities across the country.

Using a modified version of the new BBC Sounds app and a broadcast-ready smartphone, those taking part in the BBC trial will be among the first to receive live radio broadcasts over 5G - the next step up from 4G mobile networks we use today. 

The trial will put live radio into their pockets and onto their smartphones for the first time, as well as all the on-demand programmes, podcasts and music mixes BBC Sounds has to offer.

Internet changing audience habits

The BBC believes that using the internet to deliver programmes and services will become increasingly important in the future, and wants to explore the benefits 5G broadcasting could offer. It works by sending a single version of a programme out over a wide area, which anybody in range can receive. This differs from live-streaming, where the same programme is sent individually to every person that requests it.

“The internet has changed how people watch and listen to programmes, and we want to bring those benefits to all of our audiences”, said Kieran Clifton, Director of Distribution and Business Development at the BBC. 

“This can be challenging in rural areas, so we’re pioneering new ways of reaching people using the latest technology. This cutting-edge trial is a chance for us to learn all we can, so we can continue to provide world-class public service broadcasting to the entire UK.”

Rural appeal: BBC wants to extend its coverage using 5G

For audiences in rural areas, where bandwidth is often low and unstable, this means enjoying live programmes more reliably on-the-go. And when lots of people want the same live programme at the same time, broadcasting it over 5G can help reduce congestion on the rest of the network. Not only does this free up precious bandwidth and improve the reliability of the internet, but the 5G broadcast won’t eat into people’s data allowances either.

“5G RuralFirst aims to identify practical use cases of how enhanced connectivity will benefit businesses and communities in rural areas across the country,” said Nick Chrissos, US networks provider Cisco’s Director of Innovation for Europe. 

Digital investment

“It’s about building a business case for 5G roll outs beyond urban areas and demonstrating the value of investing in the digital infrastructure serving rural businesses and communities for the benefit of the entire country.”

A 4G/5G network and associated technology has been installed on Stronsay especially for the trial. The local wireless ISP, Cloudnet, is hoping to take over aspects of the technology at the end of the trial with the aim of providing wireless home broadband services to the island.

5G RuralFirst aims to successfully demonstrate several 5G use-cases across testbeds in Orkney, Shropshire and Somerset, to create the business case for rural areas being better served by connectivity infrastructure to help bridge the digital divide.

5G RuralFirst is the UK’s most ambitious testbed for connectivity in rural areas, demonstrating 5G’s game changing potential and identifying practical use cases that will benefit businesses and communities right across the United Kingdom. 

Through its three testbeds in the Orkney Islands, Somerset, and Shropshire, 5G RuralFirst is identifying and exploring new business models and use cases for connectivity deployment in rural areas and showcasing the potential of 5G in rural environments.

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