Titled ‘Connecting the Countryside’, the report revealed a striking contrast in 5G accessibility between rural and urban areas. According to the findings, 46 percent of rural deprived areas are 5G not-spots—in stark contrast to just 2.7 percent in urban deprived communities.
The study pinpointed five regions in Britain where connectivity gaps and high deprivation levels intersect, namely Scotland, Wales, East Anglia, Cumbria, and the South-West.
For instance, over half (53.8%) of rural constituencies in Wales are identified as total 5G not-spots, leaving approximately 838,000 people in deprived rural areas devoid of the potential benefits 5G technology could bring:
The implications of this digital disparity are profound. Those living in deprived rural areas are missing out on the transformative benefits that 5G technology could offer. From enhanced access to healthcare to expanded educational opportunities, the absence of reliable connectivity stifles progress in these communities.
Investments in digital infrastructure are crucial not only for the present but also for empowering these communities with essential digital skills for the future.
Fast 5G infrastructure can facilitate pre-emptive and swift responses to health emergencies, especially crucial in remote and hard-to-reach areas. Moreover, 5G technology enables efficient delivery of medicines via Vodafone’s Skyport drone programme—reducing delivery times from 36 hours to just 15 minutes.
Virtual classrooms in rural areas could pave the way for distance learning opportunities and specialised qualifications, significantly broadening horizons for residents. In agricultural regions, 5G-enabled sensors can provide valuable data, leading to higher yields and improved crop quality, with efficiency improvements of up to 15 percent.
Addressing the issue, Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK, emphasised the urgent need to bridge the rural digital divide:
“We believe everyone should have access to connectivity and our research shows the alarming rate at which almost a million people living in deprived rural communities are being left behind.
It’s clear we need to accelerate the roll-out of the UK’s 5G infrastructure, which is what we commit to do as part of our proposed merger with Three UK.”
Vodafone has pledged to accelerate the UK’s 5G infrastructure rollout, aiming for 95 percent 5G Standalone geographic coverage by 2034.
Simon Fell, Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness and Rural Connectivity Champion, commented:
“New research published today lays bare the challenge we face to bring connectivity to our most deprived rural communities to match the rest of the country and to ensure that millions of people are not left out from the future innovations that 5G can provide.
We need to deliver ‘nationwide coverage of standalone 5G to all populated areas by 2030, ensuring that we can bring its full benefits to villages and rural communities well beyond cities and towns’ as set out in the Government’s Wireless Infrastructure Strategy.
Some of these innovations are already a reality and simply need connectivity as the final piece of the puzzle. Whether it be in agriculture, with 5G-enabled sensors measuring soil quality and crop health, or in healthcare with virtual wards, 5G can bring tangible improvements to productivity, efficiency, and quality of life.”
Vodafone’s commitment to digital inclusion extends beyond infrastructure. Their ‘everyone.connected’ programme aims to assist four million people and businesses in crossing the digital divide by 2025. The initiative provides connectivity, devices, and essential digital skills to those in need, ensuring that no one is left behind.
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