5G RuralDorset: Leaving a Legacy

As the ground-breaking and multi-award winning 5G RuralDorset research and development project draws to a close, attentions have turned to the legacy that the project’s work will leave for the people of Dorset.

Beginning in March 2020, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) funded project, which was led by Dorset Council, will end in September 2022. A series of new research extensions will see the final project value stand at £9 million.

Throughout the project, the emphasis has been on exploring the ways in which next generation connectivity could benefit the people who work in Dorset, visit the county and those that call it home. The research conducted was designed with the needs of people in rural areas at its heart, and the programme has sought to provide innovative solutions for connectivity in hard to reach and remote areas such as Dorset’s beautiful but sometimes dangerous Jurassic Coast.

The Rural Community Accelerator research was led by Vodafone and provided public 5G connectivity from a site in the rural village of Worth Matravers. The site has become part of Vodafone’s public network, providing essential voice and data services to residents, businesses and visitors. The site also provides connectivity in a previous not-spot for O2 customers and 999 services in this popular tourist hotspot. Vodafone also recently took the decision to upgrade the capacity of the site from 1Gbps to 10Gbps.

The partnership approach, using public sector-owned assets to help Vodafone UK deliver its fastest ever site build in a rural area, can provide a useful model for the UK telecoms ecosystem. Indeed Vodafone outlined the part the Dorset Council project played in its future network plans in this blog by Network Director Andrea Dona.

Connected Coast was a workstream led by Excelerate Technology and provided private 5G connectivity along a large section of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast.

The network will support continuing work around 5G at sea and how next generation connectivity can support the increasingly important aquaculture sector in Dorset which has been identified by the government as a high potential opportunity. It will also continue to serve the Lulworth First Responders and the equipment they use to improve coastal public safety in the area.

Like much of the project, this work has provided new jobs and has seen a number of the partners and contributors significantly grow their team. Jet Engineering for example, who designed and built the world’s first 5G connected buoys, went from being a one-man-band to employing 11 members of full-time staff. They have also secured millions in extra funding to develop 5G at sea and are working internationally as experts in their field.

The Innovation Accelerator provided both indoor and outdoor 5G Standalone networks at Dorset Innovation Park (DIP). During the lifetime of the project DIP was designated as the national NSTIx Co-creation Space for Defence Innovation. The park was also chosen as the site for the Ministry of Defence (MoD) Battlelab. Vodafone provided the indoor 5G Standalone network located in the defence innovation centre workshop. The indoor network will remain in place to support the Army’s investment in Future Soldier.

In April 2022 the outdoor network was transferred to project partner Kimcell, who will be investing £1m into expanding its capabilities. It will be used to support work involving Government agencies and suppliers concerned with public safety.  Further R&D work, including missing persons, mmWave trials with Qualcomm, and AI at the Edge is also being explored. Defence use of the 5G networks at the park will form part of the ‘deep tech’ test centres supporting MoD and NATO projects.  The investment will result in an additional eight new jobs.

Willis Agritech kit. © Colin Wood 2022The Future of Food research led by Wessex Internet, provided new 5G connectivity across clusters of agriculture and aquaculture farms. The workstream also used Vodafone’s existing coverage to connect sensors across farms as well as several private 5G networks. The purpose of this research was to prove that by using next generation connectivity, modern farming can become more productive and environmentally friendly.

The networks will be left in place with a view to further commercial, research and development and educational uses. For example, DCMS has already approved further research around the potential uses of mmWave spectrum in agriculture and the network serving Kingston Maurward Agricultural College will continue to train students in agricultural technology applications.

The funding made available by DCMS and industry partners has demonstrated the role of research and development projects and the collaborative innovation ecosystem that they foster in realising digital and wider economic development ambitions.

The project itself has played an important role in positioning rural Dorset and the Council as a leading digital innovation ecosystem in the UK as evidenced by the team winning several national industry awards.

Gordon Fong, Director of Kimcell Ltd, commented: “Dorset now has the UK’s largest expanse of 5G test infrastructure covering land, sea and air, rural and conurbation, as well as a private and secure technology park. This is a great place to do business and is already attracting visitors from around the world.”

As the research areas came to a close the project ran a workshop with partners and wider stakeholders to establish what legacy the work could leave for Dorset and rural areas. The resulting report can be downloaded here.

Dorset Council is now working to build on the foundations established and the knowledge acquired over the life of the project, to help solve big technical innovation challenges that face society at a local and a national level.

Cllr. Jill Haynes, Cabinet Member for Corporate Development and Transformation for Dorset Council, which leads the 5G RuralDorset project, remarked: “As a Council we’re really proud of the work that has been undertaken by our team and its partners. This project has had a profound impact on the county. From providing enhanced connectivity in remote areas to opening new avenues for employment and innovation, it really has put Dorset on the map as a forward-thinking region and I can’t wait to see what we can achieve next.”