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Qualcomm, 5G RuralDorset seed partnership to trial farming use cases

Government announces relationship with wireless technology company to work with its DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme to power smart agriculture for remote farms in the Dorset region

The UK government has announced a new relationship with wireless technology leader Qualcomm Technologies as part of its DCMS 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme in a trial that has the potential to boost broadband connectivity to rural home and business premises currently underserved by wired broadband infrastructure.

Just weeks after the December 2019 General Election, the government introduced a £200m scheme to boost industrial and rural 5G to help key areas seize the potential of modern technology, in particular 5G networks, and fulfil the government’s commitment to “level-up” infrastructure across the UK.

The first part of the scheme saw £200m invested in testbeds and trials across the country to explore ways that 5G can boost business growth and productivity, improve the lives of people in rural areas, and maximise the productivity benefits of new technologies.

In February 2020, as part of an overall £65m package of government-funded trials designed specifically to help rural areas seize the potential of modern technology and fulfil the government commitment to “level-up” infrastructure across the UK, nine projects across the country received funding from the government’s rural and industrial 5G competitions, and the UK government also introduced a £30m Rural Connected Communities (RCC) competition involving seven 5G research and development projects across the UK – five in England, one in Wales and one in Scotland, with plans to expand into Northern Ireland.

Test sites were set up in Yorkshire, Gwent, Monmouthshire, Orkney, Wiltshire, Nottinghamshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire and Dorset.

And it is in the latter West Country county that Qualcomm will focus on trailing the use of mmWave 5G technologies and services including enabling the use of robotics and IoT to track crop growth, monitor livestock and reduce water pollution. 5G RuralDorset will be working alongside the wireless technology company, which will be supplying high frequency, 5G millimetre wave modules to the project to test their efficacy in 5G-connected robotic farming.

The partners believe the increased capacity offered by high frequency 5G millimetre wave will allow the robots to upload the huge amount of data they will be gathering in real time. Centralised processing could allow a fleet of robots to learn from each other by taking advantage of the complete dataset, rather than operating in isolation.

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Multiple robots could communicate and work in parallel, which is seen as saving time and taking advantage of good weather windows. It also offers the potential to reduce the processing capabilities required by an individual robot, thereby reducing the cost of each unit and increasing its battery life.

“5G mmWave not only brings next-level mobile experiences to users, it can also deliver high-capacity wireless broadband access to urban, suburban and rural settings,” said Wassim Chourbaji, senior vice-president of government affairs for Qualcomm Communications. “5GRuralDorset will demonstrate how 5G mmWave can bring smart agriculture capabilities to remote farms.

“The widespread use of 5G mmWave technology in the UK would mark a significant step towards bridging the current digital divide,” he said. “It is an endorsement of mmWave’s potential that alongside trials like this one in Dorset, we are already seeing strong commercial momentum for mmWave with a number of rollouts already taking place across Europe.”

Dave Happy, security, spectrum and collaboration lead for 5G RuralDorset, said: “Our state-of-the-art trials aim to produce the world’s first 5G-ready agri robot, and having bleeding edge technologies under the hood is a massive boost.”

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