The UK Government has announced the winners of a £25m competition to pave the way for the roll-out of 5G technology and explore its potential for rural communities, tourism, and healthcare.

From the Orkney Islands to the West of England, the six projects led by small and medium-sized enterprises, universities, and local authorities represent “the best of UK innovation, resources and expertise,” the UK Government said in a statement.

They will test 5G across a range of applications, including smart farming with drones, using the ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) to improve healthcare in the home, increasing manufacturing productivity, and maximising the benefits of self-driving cars.

Each test-bed will receive between £2m and £5m in government grants, as part of a total investment of £41m from the private sector and other public sector funding.

They will explore ‘fifth generation’ mobile communications technologies that use high frequency spectrum to deliver internet speeds of more than a gigabit per second.

“5G represents a fundamental transformation of the role that mobile technology plays in society, delivering rich new services in sectors such as finance, transport, retail and health,” said Professor Rahim Tafazolli, founder and director of 5GIC, and leader of 5GUK Networks.

“It will drive trillions of dollars of additional activity through the world digital economy and the programme will ensure that the UK stays at the forefront of this exciting global race.”

The UK Government’s Digital Strategy was launched last year “to continually drive the UK’s connectivity, telecommunications and digital sectors, and invest in industries, infrastructure and skills,” said the government statement.

It added: “Infrastructure is also one of the key foundations of our modern Industrial Strategy, and both seek to create the conditions for the UK’s digital economy to thrive; through overcoming barriers to growth and promoting more high-skilled, high-paid jobs of the future.

The six winning bidders include 5G RuralFirst, led by Cisco and Strathclyde University. It will deliver test-beds and trials to exploit 5G benefits for rural communities and industries like agriculture, broadcasting, and utilities, to “address the challenges of and build the business case for 5G rural deployment”.

Based primarily on the Orkney Islands, and in the farmlands of Shropshire and Somerset, the project will integrate spectrum sharing strategies for 5G.

It will aim to bring connectivity to rural communities, enabling smart farming, including drones, autonomous farm vehicles, and remote veterinary inspections. Other ideas include innovative methods of delivering broadcast radio over 5G, working with the BBC, alongside the delivery of 5G connectivity for IoT in utilities and other industries in rural areas.

Scot Gardner, chief executive of Cisco UK and Ireland, commented: “5G has huge interest, but now we have to make it real – not just for cities but for everyone, including into rural communities. It is fantastic to see the government investing in research and development that helps the UK to lead in such a crucial space.

“Digital economies rely on connectivity so the UK can’t sit and wait. We need to be trialling now, understanding what 5G can do right across the UK. 5G RuralFirst looks to do just that.

“With live trials in Orkney, Shropshire and Somerset it will not only benefit those communities, but help the entire UK better understand what 5G makes possible, as well as the challenges there are in delivering world-class connectivity to all corners of the nation.”