Dorset Council – bringing the future to the Jurassic Coast

How do you bring the next-generation connectivity needed to create jobs, foster innovation and support communities to one of the UK’s most beautiful rural locations with a UNESCO-designated world heritage coastline?

That’s the challenge faced by Dorset Council, which is leading a consortium of local, national and international partners delivering the £7 million 5G RuralDorset project.

Chief Executive of Dorset Council and Chair of the Local Government Delivery Council (LGDC), Matt Prosser explains why the council is involved in these ground-breaking 5G trials and the potential benefits.

This article was originally published by The Municipal Journal

With historic towns like Sherborne, Bridport and Dorchester, the rolling countryside of north Dorset and coastal gems such as Durdle Door, Lyme Regis and Weymouth, rural Dorset is a stunning place.

I feel incredibly lucky to live here and lead Dorset Council, a new unitary authority delivering services ranging from social care and libraries to planning and refuse collection.

Our beautiful and highly protected landscape brings challenges – not least around digital connectivity. Traditional commercial models have delivered often patchy mobile coverage for rural counties like ours.

Just before the global pandemic further highlighted the importance of digital connectivity and skills, we put together a partnership which was awarded £4.5m under the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s Rural Connected Communities competition.

Our research and development project 5G RuralDorset looks at how next generation wireless connectivity could be delivered more quickly and at lower cost to rural areas. We will work with industry partners and our communities to investigate and showcase the transformative nature of 5G.

Existing masts, buildings and fibre will be used wherever possible to be sensitive to our unique environment, which includes the world-famous Jurassic Coast.

Four testbeds are being built in Dorset to trial innovative public, social and business uses. The applications trialled will not only bring mobile coverage to communities that currently have none, but help save lives, boost the local economy and accelerate innovation for local business and tourism.

Connected Coast – the UK’s coastal regions provide significant economic, leisure and health benefits. But the coast can be dangerous. Excelerate Technology will deploy a 5G services test area along sections of the world-famous Jurassic Coast in order to improve coastal public safety and support first responders, like the RNLI.

We will trial digital signage providing live information about tides and currents from 5G-connected buoys along the coast. Tethered drones will be tested for incident management.

Rural Business Accelerator – Vodafone will bring enhanced mobile phone coverage to areas including the Lulworth Estate, home to Durdle Door and visited by 1 million visitors each year. We will look at whether 5G can deliver Augmented and Virtual Reality experiences and can be used in rural areas as a more cost-effective solution to traditional fibre broadband.

 Future of Food – Our partner Wessex Internet will be experimenting with how 5G can be delivered to meet the needs of farmers and the food supply chain. Using existing infrastructure, they will apply their inter-industry knowledge and relationships to deliver cost-effective and reliable 5G networks on farms. Working with leading companies in agri-tech they will demonstrate how connectivity can reform farm operations for the benefit of the environment, the farmer and rural industry. Additionally, they are collaborating with the ever growing South West aquaculture industry to understand how 5G might be able to advance farm setups using cameras and sensors under the water.

Innovation Accelerator – 5G indoor and outdoor connectivity will be provided at the council’s Dorset Innovation Park, a Local Enterprise Zone and advanced-engineering centre which already supports large and small companies that develop innovative products and services. This initiative is closely aligned with the MoD’s new Defence Innovation Centre.

I recognise that leading telecommunications R&D is a departure for a local authority. But the pandemic has shown that top-class connectivity and digital services are essential if we are to continue to provide social and economic opportunities and deliver the services local people expect against a background of increasing budgetary pressure.

Dorset is home to the highest percentage of residents aged 65 and over, of any unitary authority in the UK. We are keen to expand our project to look at the part 5G and other digital technologies could play in supporting our most vulnerable or, as we like to call them, our most valuable residents in their homes.

I hope the research we are conducting in rural Dorset will not only benefit local people but help close the digital divide felt by rural areas, future proof services and boost the county’s economy.

In short, we aim to create a 5G blueprint for rural Britain . . . and if we can do it here in Dorset, it can be done anywhere in the UK.