The small and sparsely populated parish of Sebergham has successfully trialed a world-first mobile and broadband technology, thanks to the efforts of EE, local MP Rory Stewart, local councillors and the community group, Northern Fells Broadband. The creation of new micro networks that wirelessly connect small mobile antennas to a nearby macro site, will see all 129 households and small businesses in Sebergham receiving data and voice connectivity from only three ‘meshed’ small antennas. This unique, low impact technology does not need any fixed broadband to connect into the wider network, and an antenna can be installed on to any building in just a few hours, without the need for planning applications.

This trial is the latest success for the Northern Fells area, and stems back back to the work of the Penrith and the Border MP in 2011, when his parliamentary motion forced telecommunications regulator OFCOM to increase the coverage target for the 4G mobile spectrum from 89 per cent of the British population to at least 98 per cent – dramatically increasing coverage in rural areas. In the three years since, Rory Stewart has worked with EE to launch a trial 4G mast in Threlkeld, which was subsequently extended to cover over 2000 residents and businesses across over 100 square miles in the Northern Fells.

EE announced that Cumbria has the highest data usage per person of any region in the UK, highlighting the importance and centrality of broadband technology to rural businesses and residents in particular. This latest ‘wire mesh’ technology will make it significantly easier and more cost effective to deliver superfast broadband and mobile coverage to the most rural communities, whose isolation and rurality has made it difficult to form a strong commercial case for investment in the necessary infrastructure up until now.

Rory Stewart said:

“This is the first time we have seen this revolutionary technology in the UK. It has the power to transform rural Britain, providing a very cost-effective way of delivering mobile and broadband services to sparsely-populated areas. Cumbria has again taken the lead, and this is the perfect example of the private sector working alongside the public, to deliver something of incredible value to our local communities and small businesses. Sebergham and the Northern Fells Group have proved what is possible with the energy and drive of the local community, and the challenge now is to roll this out further and deeper into every last home and business in Cumbria.”

Cumbria County Councillor, Duncan Fairbairn, said:

“The mobile service here is either non-existent or spasmodic at best. And the broadband is incredibly slow and very unreliable. In rural communities like Sebergham, being connected to good, reliable mobile coverage can make a significant difference to everyday life and we need fast broadband. We’re delighted to be the first community in the UK to benefit from this EE initiative, and there are more villages in my parish that I know will benefit hugely from this, and they’re excited to be connected next.”

EE CEO Olaf Swantee said:

“With this innovative new technology, we have the capability to connect every community in the UK, and we estimate that we’ll be able to bring reliable voice coverage and high speed mobile broadband to more than 1,500 places for the first time by 2017. We’ve been working closely with Government on the long-term ambition to bring voice coverage to more of the UK, and we believe that this world-first technology will demonstrate significant advancements against that vision. Areas across the UK are being analysed now for connectivity, and the first deployments will be started in early 2015. In reports from Ofcom, EE has recently been named best for rural call quality and reliability, and best for 4G and 3G speeds and coverage.”

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