Missing access to fast broadband still presents a development challenge to many rural and remote areas. Frequently, the investments costs appear to be too high in comparison to the final number of end users in certain regions. Sometimes only investing in the “last-mile” presents a bottleneck to the connectivity. End-user needs vary not only between communities, but also between individual businesses and households, making it more challenging to find a common solution.
5G connectivity is a prerequisite for the running of several real-time applications, including of applications in the agricultural and forestry sectors, and has thus theoretically the potential to increase the economic and environmental performance of the sectors.
Overall, a range of possibilities to establish different types of broadband access at e.g. community-, farm- or field level are available going along with different investment and running costs.
Edge technologies allow under certain conditions the processing and analysis of data in remote systems, independently from larger data centres, which are frequently far away from rural communities. Edge technologies have the potential to reduce energy consumption.[[See e.g. “A European Strategy for Data” published by the European Commission in Q1 2020 (https://ec.europa.eu/digital-single-market/en/policies/building-european-data-economy).]]
Communities and businesses in rural areas considering upgrading their internet connectivity are confronted with decision-making challenges regarding the choice of technologies in which they should invest in to achieve best outcomes at system level under consideration of technical, economic, environmental and social aspects and the location-specific requirements and systemic resilience.
Proposals should cover all of the following aspects:
- Assessing the socio-economic and environmental effects of innovative and existing 5G/4G/3G provision options (at regional-, community-, and farm-level) and making them feasible for non-scientists).
- Developing innovative cost-effective and environmentally friendly solutions to 5G-and last-mile provision in remote areas tailored to the needs of communities, farms and forestry.
- Assessing the socio-economic and environmental effects of innovative and existing edge technology options (at regional-, community-, and farm-level) and making them feasible for non-scientists.
- Developing innovative cost-effective and environmental friendly edge solutions tailored to the needs of communities, farms and forestry, including an energy balance at system level.
- Developing innovative business models (including at systemic level and cross-sectoral approaches).
Proposals are expected to undertake a comprehensive stocktaking exercise of solutions towards 5G, last-mile and edge solutions existing in the EU and globally (including satellite-based solutions[[See e.g. OECD (2017) “THE EVOLVING ROLE OF SATELLITE NETWORKS IN RURAL AND REMOTE BROADBAND ACCESS”, for reflections on the potential of satellite-based broadband provision for rural areas.]] and other solutions, such as drones-assisted broadband provision), and of related studies and assessments. This review may also cover connectivity solutions developed in other domains, such as expedition, emergency or military services.
The aspects of regional and/or systemic resilience and energy efficiency should be elaborated, including the contribution to climate mitigation. Different regional contexts in the EU and Associated Countries as it regards environmental framing conditions, as well as the structure of the society and economy are to be reflected. To tailor solutions to practitioners’ and citizens’ needs, proposals must implement the multi-actor approach.
Project results are to be made feasible to rural communities, farmers and foresters associations, and policy-makers. A decision-making support tool, which includes assistance in business model development, is to be provided. – Practitioner-orientation has to form a key element of the project(s).
Proposals are not expected to develop innovative technology solutions for the general use of 5G, but should reflect and build – as far as possible – on the (interim) results of relevant projects funded under Horizon 2020, Horizon Europe Cluster 4, the Digital Europe Programme, the Connecting Europe Facility and other research and innovation projects, to develop innovative solutions tailored to the needs of remote farming, forestry and rural communities.
This topic should involve the effective contribution of SSH disciplines.