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A study of Britain’s most deprived communities by leading operator Vodafone has revealed a worrying digital divide between rural and urban areas, with nearly half (46%) of deprived rural areas classed as 5G notspots, whereas the same can only be said for 2.7% of deprived urban communities.
The Connecting the countryside report, commissioned by Vodafone UK with analysis carried out by WPI Economics, identified five areas of Britain as performing particularly poorly when it comes to a lack of connectivity and high levels of deprivation – Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, Cumbria and the south-west. In a glaring example of the issue, over half (58.9%) of the rural deprived constituencies in Wales were found to be total 5G notspots.
When it came to 5G in particular, the net result of this, warned Vodafone, was that almost a million (838,000) people living in deprived rural areas were losing out on the benefits that 5G networks could provide – from better access to healthcare to more educational opportunities.
Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK
In addition, Vodafone noted the huge economic growth potential of 5G, citing previous research showing it could provide a £150bn boost to the UK economy over the next 10 years. Yet the latest study revealed this potential could be said for only 2.7% of deprived constituencies in urban areas. This means thousands of people living in deprived rural areas lack the digital infrastructure they need to boost their communities – an infrastructure the majority of urban areas have.
The company added that improved connectivity, through investment in digital infrastructure, would help rural communities not only today, but also tomorrow, as those living in notspots simply won’t learn the digital skills they need for the future.
Drilling deeper into the transformative benefits of 5G in key use cases, Vodafone noted the health benefits of fast 5G infrastructure, which offers the ability to pre-empt and react to health emergencies, crucial in hard-to-reach areas. It added that in rural communities, medicines can take up to 36 hours to be delivered, but with 5G and Vodafone’s Skyport drone programme they could be delivered in just 15 minutes.
In another key potential use case, the operator suggested that 5G connectivity in rural areas could open up virtual classrooms for distance learning and specialist qualifications, vastly increasing the opportunities available to people. Also, in agricultural areas, 5G-enabled sensors could provide data that makes higher yields and better crop quality. Vodafone said tests have shown efficiency improvements of 15%.
Looking to address these concerns, Vodafone UK pledged to close the digital divide between rural and urban areas by delivering on the government’s 2030 5G coverage ambitions, set out in the Wireless Infrastructure Strategy, by providing 95% of the UK population with 5G Standalone coverage by 2030 and extending that to 99% by 2034, as part of its proposed merger with Three UK.
“We believe everyone should have access to connectivity and our research shows the alarming rate at which almost a million people living in deprived rural communities are being left behind,” commented Vodafone UK chief network officer Andrea Dona. “It’s clear we need to accelerate the roll-out of the UK’s 5G infrastructure, which is what we commit to do as part of our proposed merger with Three UK. We would close the rural digital divide by delivering 99% 5G Standalone geographic coverage by 2034.”
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