The ground-breaking 5G RuralDorset project, led by Dorset Council and part-funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s 5G Testbeds and Trials Programme, is aimed at understanding how next generation connectivity can help people live better, safer and more prosperous lives in rural communities.
Understanding how 5G can be used to address specific challenges in food production is one of four key research areas within the project. The agriculture and aquaculture trials, led by Wessex Internet, is the largest of its kind in the UK to date. It involves farms from across the county, including two large arable farms in North Dorset, a mixed farm at Kingston Maurward College and a shellfish & seaweed farm on the Dorset coast.
Wessex Internet was chosen to lead this part of the project as its existing 1,600km ultrafast fibreoptic network connecting rural communities in Dorset, and 150 existing wireless masts in remote areas, allow for rapid deployment. In addition, the company has farming roots. It began operations in 2010 when its owners were investigating options to get an internet connection to their own family farm near Blandford, where the independent internet service provider is based to this day.
“There is a huge range of exciting and innovative agricultural technology available from connected tractors, sensors, drones and even to robots. But the effectiveness of this technology for farmers has been hampered by poor mobile coverage in remote rural areas,” explains Hector Gibson Fleming, MD of Wessex Internet.
“As poor coverage can’t support the transfer of data, farmers have to take the machine or technology back to base to upload information. This limits the immediacy of results and the ability to act on outcomes as they happen. We are hoping this will fix that problem and open up new possibilities.”
Wessex Internet aims to demonstrate that reliable 5G connectivity can help deliver high-tech solutions which are affordable and reliable and can work with existing machinery and equipment on the farm. It believes these solutions can drive fundamental change in the industry, both to the cost of farming and its environmental impact.
“Change in an industry such as agriculture usually takes a long time, but the end result is more revolutionary than first anticipated,” says Mr Gibson Fleming.
Dorset Council Deputy Leader Peter Wharf remarked: “We’re really excited to be working with Wessex Internet who bring a wealth of experience to the project in fibre operations and are a trusted partner in network architecture. We’ve also been really impressed with their ability to conceive exciting and ground-breaking applications for this very new technology.”
Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “5G RuralDorset is one of the many innovative projects we are backing to see how next-generation connectivity can boost the economy and I’m hugely excited to see how it could shape the future of farming and food production in this country.”