By Ian Reid, chief executive, CENSIS
A quiet revolution has taken place in one of Scotland’s forests. Its results could have incredible consequences for many of the country’s remote tourist attractions – connecting them with the rest of the world for the first time, writes Ian Reid.
We take for granted the connectivity we enjoy today – whether it’s Wi-Fi in city centres or the ability to surf the internet with relative ease on our mobile devices. But, when one ventures off the beaten track, that often ceases to be the case; most of the UK still only receives the lowest level of 3G coverage, according to Ofcom’s latest available data.
In a country with Scotland’s topography, that can be a major challenge – particularly for tourist destinations which tend to be in remote locations. If these areas could be enfranchised, there could be real benefits for some of Scotland’s most picturesque attractions, nearby businesses and local people.
A recent pilot project in Glentress forest – a remote and hilly terrain in Peeblesshire, typical of “adventure tourism” attractions – was an important milestone on the road to achieving this.
At this year’s Enduro World Series mountain biking competition, a consortium of companies came together to bring an emerging networking approach, known as TV White Space (TVWS), to the event. This method uses VHF/UHF channels, released by the analogue TV switch-off, to transmit internet traffic wirelessly over long distances.
This technology could offer an economically viable way of delivering connectivity to remote and inaccessible locations, without the need for regulatory approval or the installation of extensive cabling. It also has the added benefit of being able to propagate through trees, meaning you don’t require a direct line of sight for transmission – especially useful in forested and mountainous areas.
Working together, Scottish Enterprise, CENSIS, Boston Networks, Microsoft and Indigo Vision were able to provide the event organiser, Tweedlove, with capabilities which were previously unavailable in this location. The project, based on pioneering work from The Centre for White Space Communications at the University of Strathclyde, allowed the company to provide and make use of live video streaming, increased access to data and enhanced automation for its staff and spectators.
In practice, this meant Tweedlove could stream live video of the races to a nearby screen in Peebles town centre, provide live information and cut down on the need for manual data input and radio communications. This is great progress on what was available at the event last year. But, the real excitement is the potential that could be released if this connectivity is rolled out to attendees and the local area.
At many events, this could mean organisers, participants and tourists will be in a position to share their experiences in real-time on social media platforms – opening up a huge, hitherto untapped, audience for Scotland’s remote regions and attractions. That could cement Scotland’s place on the adventure tourism map and make it a top destination for young, tech-savvy sports enthusiasts.
There are obvious benefits for the companies involved too: this breakthrough for connectivity gives the project partners a unique opportunity to gain an early lead with technology which is on the cusp of widespread adoption. Significant progress is already being made on introducing this technology across the world, in both mature and emerging markets.
The Enduro World Series attracts more than 600 riders and 15,000 spectators – it’s a huge opportunity to promote Scotland on the world stage. The project at Glentress has opened up this possibility and, with further adoption of TVWS technology, we could be looking at a revolution for Scottish tourism.