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Event will address access to technology

University Centre Shrewsbury will explore the challenges and opportunities rural businesses and communities face when trying to access efficient and effective communication technologies during their 3rd Smart Rural event.

The event starts at 10.30am on February 27.

Keynote speaker is Paul Lindop of Smart Rural Scotland Co-op, who will explain how the Co-op successfully implemented the use of a new wireless technology to fill the gap between cellular and WiFi-based networks in rural Scotland.

Tinna Björk Arnardóttir, eco-innovation project manager of the University of Chester, will present a case study of how Iceland built its digital infrastructure.

Chris Taylor, of Shropshire Council, will explain the current picture of connectivity in the county, and Lesley Holt of WM5G will offer an overview of current 5G projects in the West Midlands.

“Rural businesses and communities, such as Shropshire, are still facing disadvantage through poor connectivity,” said Professor Julieanna Powell-Turner, director of UCS’s Centre for Research into Science and Technology (CREST).

“Connectivity is central to our county’s future prosperity and CREST’s mission of using technology to better our community.”

The most recent government statistics suggest over 10,000 businesses (65%) in Shropshire are located in areas considered to be rural or rural fringe. Of those, 8,500 are located in areas that more than 25% of lines are unable to receive broadband speeds over 10 mbps, with that figure as high as 46% in some locations.

To help people in rural areas, the government is to roll out a universal service obligation that gives everyone the right to a minimum speed of 10 megabits per second (Mbits/s)– which is the bare minimum to cover a family’s digital needs - if the cost does not exceed £3,400.

While pockets of rural areas struggle to access 4G or even 3G services, companies are preparing to introduce full-fibre networks, 5G broadband and mobile, to cities and towns where the cost of rollout is cheaper and profits higher, which likely will further exacerbate the digital divide between urban and rural areas.

“We will present several solutions for rural areas, from 5G to Airband and Lorwan at the Smart Rural event,” said Professor Powell-Turner. “The need for a workable solution is evident as more businesses move completely online.”

Agriculture, tourism and leisure, health care and construction are the top four employment sectors in the Marches region and are also ranked lowest for digital literacy nationwide. All are welcome to join the discussion and debate at the 3rd Smart Rural event. The event is free, but booking is strongly suggested. Register at: www.ucshrewsbury.ac.uk/public-events.

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