Digital & IT

Published: February 23, 2020 | Updated: February 23, 2020

West Dorset MP welcomes decision to award £4.3m to boost rural mobile connectivity

West Dorset MP Chris Loder (right) with Matt Warman MP, Minister for Digital Infrastructure.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

West Dorset MP Chris Loder has welcomed a government decision to award a bid led by Dorset Council £4.3m.

The money will be used to help understand how rural communities can benefit from next generation mobile connectivity.

The 5G Rural Dorset project is one of seven across the UK to be funded by the government’s Rural Connected Communities competition over the next two years.

A consortium of council, local, national and international partners plan to show that mobile infrastructure can be delivered cost effectively and sensitively to benefit rural businesses and communities.

Mr Loder made rural connectivity and better broadband speeds key priorities during December’s election campaign.

Last month he met with Matt Warman MP, the Minister for Digital Infrastructure, and explained the challenges faced by West Dorset’s communities who are hindered by lack of fast broadband and reliable mobile phone coverage.

Mr Loder pointed out that whether running a small business, keeping in touch with family and friends, live streaming radio and entertainment programmes or accessing email and online services – everyday life depended on being able to access reliable internet and mobile reception.

However, in many areas of West Dorset, it was virtually non-existent.

As a result, said Mr Loder, local communities were often excluded from the advances in digital technology and, for too long, rural villages and towns had to tolerate appalling connectivity while, in his opinion, larger cities and conurbations reaped all the benefits.

Mr Loder added: “I have been lobbying Ministers on rural connectivity since I was first elected and I’m delighted that this work is paying off.

“The government is finally putting West Dorset higher up the agenda after so long trailing behind others.

“This is great news, especially for small rural businesses who struggle with current provision.

“I shall continue to press the government for these improvements to be brought in without delay.”

The total cost of the 5G RuralDorset initiative is £6.675m with the council contributing £150,000.

The rest will come from industry and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Four trials in the county will look at innovative public, social and business uses of improved mobile coverage.

They will test whether this connectivity can be delivered cheaper and quicker using existing masts, buildings and fibre wherever possible to minimise visual and other impacts.

The four trials are:

Agri-tech – new wireless technology on existing masts and fibre owned and operated by internet service provider Wessex Internet to allow innovative agricultural uses. These may include ‘smart’ farm controls, crop and livestock monitoring and using drones to spray more precisely and minimise chemical run-off into local water courses.

Lulworth Estate – new mobile services to unlock social and commercial benefits. These will include Vodafone bringing enhanced mobile phone coverage to the area for locals and the 1 million visitors who visit each year. Additional possible uses from tourism and education to healthcare will be considered.

Connected coast – improved safety along a section of the coast by upgrading access to digital communications for first responders and supporting organisations.

5G Innovation Accelerator – at Dorset Innovation Park, Winfrith. The Local Enterprise Zone and advanced-engineering centre already supports large and small companies that develop innovative connected products and services. New connectivity will support businesses operating in the county and across the supply chain to test and develop products in a collaborative and secure way.

Peter Wharf, Dorset’s Council’s Deputy Leader, said: “We are delighted to receive this funding. Improved connectivity is critical to our smart rural place aspirations and making Dorset a great place to live, work and visit.

“Introduced sensitively in our world-famous UNESCO-recognised coastline and the wider environment, 5G can help keep vulnerable people safe and well, deliver economic growth, and provide enhanced educational and social opportunities.

“This exciting project won’t banish all the county’s mobile phone not-spots but is an opportunity for Dorset to become a leader in Europe in understanding how next generation connectivity can positively transform the lives and economies of rural communities. We look forward to sharing our learning experiences with other parts of the UK.”

The 5G RuralDorset consortium includes Dorset Council, Vodafone, Wessex Internet, Excelerate Technology Ltd, Bournemouth University, Kimcell, Hugslock, Telint, Neutral Networks, University of Strathclyde, New Generation Internet Services and Satellite Applications Catapult.

The project will start next month and is due to be completed by end of March 2022.