Accelerating 5G rollout with Scottish Geospatial Data

How easy will it be to implement 5G in remote areas?

The arrival of this new form of connectivity will mark a historic moment in the evolution of connected places, helping to untether them from metropolitan areas. Because of this, effective 5G rollouts are a priority topic to explore.

In a bid to break new ground and lay the foundations for 5G connectivity in Scotland, Connected Places Catapult teamed up with Scottish Futures Trust (SFT) to bring public bodies and mobile operators together. At the heart of this work was identifying suitable sites to implement mobile connectivity equipment, but there were also legislative barriers to overcome.

Achieving this outcome required extensive data discovery work at a national scale, and an understanding of the major benefits that existing data has to offer. The result of this project was Infralink, a programme that marks the first step in breaking down the barriers that have delayed the rollout of 4G and 5G in Scotland. This article will explore the process we engaged in to achieve this breakthrough, offering a template for how advanced mobile connectivity can be delivered even in rural areas.

The blockers

On a technical level, the shorter range of 5G waves has presented a barrier to rollout in rural areas, requiring equipment to be deployed densely to achieve widespread coverage. There have also been blockers in relation to national security, and some have been the result of misinformation. As in the case of the 4G rollout, identifying where to install mobile connectivity infrastructure stood out as the core challenge.

The process of mapping out locations for connectivity infrastructure and then gaining agreement on mounting the equipment formed a complex logistical task. This is the main blocker that Infralink was designed to tackle, with the goal of expediting the difficult process. Suitable assets like buildings, rooftops, and street furniture had to first be scoped out as potential places to mount the equipment.

A ‘barrier-bursting’ solution

The team set about building a data ecosystem map that was based on user research interviews, which were facilitated by the Infralink programme. This enabled us to maximise the valuable interactions we had and to establish which datasets would streamline the nationwide process. We used an approach called snowball sampling for the next phase, whereby research participants recruit other participants for the study. Conducting this virtually allowed us to quickly interact with a range of knowledgeable geospatial data practitioners.

This undertaking provided us with an understanding of where potential assets were located and who owned the, equipping us with the information that would guide mobile network operators on their acquisition journey. To reach this point, each data set was analysed based on points of longitude and latitude, which were tethered to keywords like “bench,” and “carpark.”

Looking to the 5G future

Navigating and overcoming the complex barriers to rolling out 4G and 5G in Scotland was a major achievement, and a step-change in terms of nationwide mobile connectivity. The application of our geospatial data expertise in collaboration with SFT resulted in a dynamic proof of concept.

Analysing and overlaying the datasets provided an opportunity to automate the selection of priority asset sites via an algorithm, which has the potential to transform the delivery of mobile connectivity. This pioneering work has the potential to influence other nationwide rollouts and lay the foundations of networks of connected places around the world.