Residents and businesses in Orkney look set to enjoy some of the fastest and most advanced mobile broadband connections anywhere in the UK after it was chosen as a test site for the rollout of groundbreaking 5G technology.
The archipelago is one of only a handful of locations across the country selected to take part in the trials, overseen by the UK government, to determine how the next generation of wireless networks might revolutionise day-to-day life and work.
Details of the scheme are still being finalised, but it is understood it will be used to look at how 5G can be used to control everyday home appliances, a concept known as the “Internet of Things”.
Orkney will also be the proving ground for new radio technology using 5G, which uses high frequency spectrums to deliver internet speeds of more than a gigabit per second.
More importantly, however, it is seen as a crucial way of proving whether 5G can solve the long-standing problems with rural connectivity that exist across the country.
Only last month, the Commons Scottish affairs committee was told by business figures that poor broadband and mobile phone coverage were acting as barriers to economic growth, as they deterred people from living and working in remote and rural areas.
The decision to have one of six so-called “testbed” sites in Orkney will be of particular relief to businesses on the islands, which currently have some of the slowest broadband speeds in the UK. Research published last year by Which? found that the islands had an average test speed of 6.3 megabits per second.
Technology conglomerate, Cisco, the lead partner behind the 5G RuralFirst initiative on Orkney said further details of the £4.3 million trial will be announced soon.
Scot Gardner, chief executive of the firm’s UK operation, said the venture would benefit islanders as well as help the rest of the country realise “what 5G makes possible”.
He added: “5G has huge interest, but now we have to make it real – not just for cities but for everyone, including into rural communities.”
Orkney is not the only place in Scotland in line to try 5G before anyone else. A separate trial, run by a consortium helmed by internet firm Quickline Communications, will look at “innovative use” of the tech in parts of Perthshire and Inverness-shire.
The work will include developing 5G-ready augmented reality apps of tourists.