Over the past 4 months we have moved our lives online; we have been introduced to digital platforms such as Zoom, which last year we may never have even heard of. We have been asked to work from home and for many support networks have been built with neighbours and the wider community using mobile apps such as WhatsApp and Messenger.
Lockdown has been mentally and financially challenging for many – people have felt isolated, lonely and cut off from friends and family. Several businesses have had to move their activity online to keep customers engaged to protect their futures – this is especially prevalent in the tourism industry. And although restrictions are being lifted, there is a chance that this new norm might last a while.
If you’re lucky enough to live in an area that has good mobile connectivity the last 4 months have probably been hard but you should have had the technological infrastructure support. But within North Yorkshire, 35% of the County has little or no mobile coverage – so how have these residents and businesses coped?
It is appropriate at this point, to introduce Mobile Access North Yorkshire – MANY. Part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Rural Connected Communities project, an element of the wider 5G testbed and trials, MANY is keen to investigate the impact a lack of mobile access can have on people’s lives.
We, Quickline Communications Ltd, along with our partners: North Yorkshire County Council; the Universities of York and Lancaster; and several SME’s – Flo-culture; Cybermoor; Wireless Coverage; and Safenetics, are interested in listening to people’s stories about how a lack of connectivity has impacted them and understand their future needs.
Using this information together with the communities we work with, the project will look to build a mobile network, giving residents access to something the majority of us have come to expect.
Individuals and communities will have the opportunity to test the latest technology to see how enabling mobile connectivity can change and improve lives. But more excitingly, we can push boundaries within the four identified use cases: Mental Health and Wellbeing; Emergency services; Environmental Monitoring; and Tourism.
The network will give rural connectivity to the communities we work with but also has the ability to enable the latest wireless technology – 5G – meaning we can test new innovations with a flick of a switch. For example, giving GP and Health and Social Care teams the chance to try out new ways of talking to their patients and giving Environment teams the chance to use real time or near real time streaming of vital environmental monitoring data giving early flood warnings to communities directly affected or the prospect of picking up minor changes in a bridge’s integrity enabling repairs to take place before collapse.
These, alongside offering tourist attractions the chance to use digital visitor experiences via Augmented Reality whilst, being able to give festivals higher bandwidth coverage and working with Mountain Rescue teams to offer reliable radio coverage really brings new opportunities to rural communities.
This list, however, isn’t exhaustive – these are just our initial ideas. But by listening to rural communities and giving them a voice to drive the direction of the project, we believe we will be able to highlight issues the majority of us can’t even imagine and work to offer solutions.
Our partnership offers exciting possibilities, with the ultimate aim to influence government to explore different ways to ensure these sometimes forgotten communities have the same opportunities as their urban neighbours.