Connect the unconnected: XGain to promote high speed digital connectivity in rural areas with a cost effective and environmentally friendly manner.
Rural and coastal communities can (and should) be major guides for managing, protecting and using natural resources. The provision of both private and public goods from these areas depends on the resilience and attractiveness of rural and coastal communities and the capacity of people who live and work there to access a sufficient level of well-being. Lack of the appropriate technological infrastructure combined with digital accessibility and connectivity issues aggravate the erosion of socio-territorial cohesion mainly through deficiencies in economic opportunities. XGain’s initiative is to promote the bridging of the digital gap between urban and rural areas through the deployment of high-speed connectivity in a sustainable, balanced and inclusive manner. With a €4.88 million budget co-funded by the European Union, the project represents a high-tech paradigm shift with a tremendous potential impact on productivity, efficiency, and environmental sustainability. All 17 partners – coming from 12 different countries- have been brought together, ready to unite their efforts for the next 3 years.
No one left behind
While digitalization and the Internet of Things (IoT) connect people from all over the globe, in real-life, rural areas are still not used to maximum benefit and remain isolated, urging for an impactful digital transformation change. The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted and amplified the existing digital inequalities between those that have access to the internet and those that do not. The need and urge for high-speed connectivity options in rural areas has been enormous, in all aspects of everyday life, ranging from supply chains and education to health and farming issues. It is noteworthy, that the main reasons for not providing access to rural areas are rather commercial (low population density, lack of backbone infrastructure, landscape variation) than technical.
One of the most important challenges in our digital era is the equally distributed digital opportunities for all. Equal digital opportunities translate to equal socio-economic opportunities for rural citizens same as for citizens living in urban areas. With EU’s moto of no one left behind, XGain’s ambition is to offer a solution for these digital inequalities existing between urban and rural areas.
A new Digital Era for rural areas
There are several overarching reasons why people remain offline or with slow connectivity speeds, with main reasons being lack of network infrastructure availability and affordable Internet services. Additionally, reasons may reside in gaps in digital skills, cost of personal devices, and a perceived lack of relevancy.
XGain was developed to support the design and development of programs and interventions that address two of these main issues:
• lack of Internet infrastructure availability in certain areas;
• high connectivity service prices that make Internet connectivity unaffordable for rural populations.
Based on real-life, real-needs in real-time, XGain will deploy, explore and assess digital connectivity options by applying a range of technological solutions to a wide spectrum of geographical locations and sectors. More specifically,
– In Mora La Nova – Spain, a set of 5G-Connected drones (airborne and ground-borne) will be deployed in order to facilitate services such as monitoring. XGain will demonstrate the capacity of drones to identify crop needs (e.g., watering, fertilization, pest control) and prevent natural disasters such as wildfires via real-time surveillance.
– In Central Macedonia – Greece, eHealth robots will act as a companion/caregiver in order to provide health and wellbeing guidance and interventions for elderly people living in rural areas.
– In the isles of Scilly – UK, balloons and drones will be used in order to provide 5G adequate and extended coverage.
– In Lithuania, hybrid solutions – local via drones or local servers and cloud-based will be used for precision agriculture and environmental monitoring and control.
– In Dalmatia – Croatia, XGain will offer its connectivity solutions to the oyster farming industry by applying a satellite IoT network in order to overcome the fragmented existing network and provide fast and reliable data transfer and analytics.
– In Flanders – Belgium, XGain will deploy a “digital shepherd” in livestock farming via camera instalments and drones for real-time data acquisition and monitoring.
Different locations-Different Needs-Different Options-Different Solutions.
“Which is my best technological connectivity option?”, “Is it cost-effective?”, “Will it suit my needs?”, “Is it environmentally friendly?”, “Will it help me improve my income?”, “Will it be a tool for creating more jobs?” “What does it all mean?!”.
XGain will utilize and analyze all the above-mentioned scenarios in order to identify and suggest optimal connectivity and edge computing solutions for rural communities and individual stakeholders.
But is not just about finding the proper connectivity option. XGain will assess and combine quantitative as well as qualitative data from socio-economic, climate and environmental studies and questionnaires.
XGain’s core ambition is to gather all the necessary pieces of the puzzle called “Rural Digital Connectivity” into a Knowledge Facilitation Tool (Digital Platform). With an easy to use web-based interface, interested stakeholders will have the ability to select “pieces of their puzzle” (requirements). Options like sector of interest (e.g. Agriculture), service (e.g. Precision Farming), location needs (e.g. connectivity range) and scale (farm/community/regional), will be compiled as inputs and processed. In a consistent, efficient and effective way, XGain’s Knowledge Facilitation Tool, will utilize user’s inputs and based on the Knowledge “Gains” will provide recommendations for the “best-fit” technological solutions that are both cost-effective and environmentally friendly taking into consideration local-social aspects. Finally, XGain will identify existing and develop alternative business models adapted to real-life/real-needs conditions.
All in all, XGain’s platform is intended to provide the best digital connectivity solutions to all stakeholders in an ad-hoc way by answering all of their questions and hesitations.
Making a positive impact
In its bold commitment to bring a decisive shift, this newly launched project is supporting innovators to introduce inclusive digital connectivity solutions in rural and coastal Europe, in order to raise awareness and increase value in these areas.
XGain is here to ensure and enhance the cooperation among all key players such as farmers, fishers, foresters, rural citizens, innovators, technology experts, wider groups, policy makers, academics, local governments, NGOs etc. to contribute jointly to the identification of specific innovation needs.
But it is time to figure out how this will be made feasible; thoroughly organizing training workshops and other impactful activities will diffuse the available knowledge resources to all related stakeholders. Each of them will be provided with tailored and independent support on their initiative, ranging from consulting to mentoring. This will not only be an eye-opener for people engaging in rural activities, such as farmers, but will also result in sustainable business model pathways, capable of accelerating the development of marketable services.
XGain’s primary objective, by the end of this project, is to establish an EU network, able to endure in time. Led by a team of experts from the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems (ICCS), XGain will be the meeting point for all related stakeholders, from farmers to local governments, to achieve this goal. XGain is looking forward to bringing a meaningful change in rural areas of Europe and taking you with us along this journey.
Dr Angelos Amditis, Research & Development Director at the Institute of Communication and Computer Systems of National Technical University of Athens and XGain’s Project Coordinator, stated: “As an engineer I am always fascinated by technologies, but nowadays the acceptance of society and the willingness of citizens to adopt them is more important than technologies per se. In the future we will see technology readiness levels to go hand-in-hand with societal readiness levels and XGain is a decisive step towards this direction. “