“He lives in a house, an unconnected house, in the country!”

Joe McNamara

15 Nov 2019

Half a century ago, an incomplete message containing the letters ‘LO’ travelled over the Advanced Research Project Agency Network. The ARPANET was the first network to use Transmission Control Protocol (TCP) and Internet Protocol (IP) – the foundations of the modern Internet.

20 years later in 1989, Tim Berners-Lee conceived his most infamous brainchild, the World Wide Web (WWW).

Like the Web, I turned 30 this year myself, so I remember when using it involved a modem dial-up that sounded like a broken space shuttle radio and rendered my parents uncontactable for hours.

Nowadays I send and receive more GBs in a day than I drink litres of water. To me, connectivity is a utility. It takes conscious effort to remember that half the world isn’t connected to the Internet. Yet the reality is that, even in a digital metropolis like the UK, one in ten households have no connection.

Country-File Transfer Protocol

Ultimately, connectivity is a supply and demand business. The cables follow the users. But as well as a year of anniversaries for Internet nerds, 2019 has been a milestone year for connectivity, with great work being done to try and change this approach.

The countryside has traditionally been at the back of the queue when it comes to handing out Internet. A crass oversimplification perhaps but, until this year, UK spectrum was shared according to regional usage.

If you’re a big city with lots of Internet users, you need faster connectivity and more of it. If you’re not, well you’ll be okay, won’t you? Don’t you have cows to milk or something?

To anyone who has lived in more rural areas, they know the reality is very different. There are businesses, services, communities going about their life and connectivity is as vital to them as it is to people in large towns or cities.

Happily, there have recently been significant movements in a different direction. First of all, as part of the 5G RuralFirst team, I’ve had the privilege to witness that cows can now milk themselves – with help from automated robotic milking machines.

The Agri-EPI Centre in Somerset was one of three test-beds, alongside the Orkney Islands and Shropshire, of the part-government funded, Cisco-led consortium project.

The spectrum sharing economy

If you have an Internet connection, which presumably you do as you’re reading this, you probably know all about 5G RuralFirst, but ultimately it was about demonstrating 5G’s potential to transform rural communities and businesses.

The project aimed to build a new business model for rural connectivity, recognising the contribution of these areas to national GDP and power the agricultural Internet of Things (IoT).

Another major boost for rural connectivity came when Ofcom announced that licensed but unused spectrum could be used on a local basis to build bespoke mobile networks.

This new model of spectrum sharing will force the hands of operators to ensure that radio spectrum does not go to waste and is deployed in the areas that need it most.

With 900 million farmed animals in the UK, plus all the tractors, food production businesses and people living in the countryside, there’s plenty for any spare spectrum to be connecting.

Perhaps 2020 will be another milestone year for connectivity as technology companies look for new ways to bridge the digital divide.