Controversial world first 5G network brings phone signal to Jurassic Coast

The world’s first standalone 5G network for research purposes has been installed along the coastline between Kimmeridge, Lulworth Cove, Durdle Door and Ringstead.

But the pioneering project, aimed at investigating the applications of 5G technology in rural areas, has already sparked fierce opposition.

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While many are celebrating its potential for better mobile phone signals and a wide range of applications, others say it’s an experiment which turns Dorset residents into ‘guinea pigs’.

The new 5G mast in Worth Matravers has split opinion in the village

£8 million project

A mast installed at Worth Matravers, near Swanage, has divided the village. Many welcome the advent of mobile phone coverage, while others are upset at the proximity of the mast to homes.

The £8m 5G RuralDorset project, using 700 MHz frequencies, started in March 2020. It received £4.7m from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, with the rest coming from Dorset Council and other partners.

In the latest stage, a 5G network has been installed to cover a stretch of the coastline between Ringstead, Durdle Door, Lulworth Cove and Kimmeridge.

Matt Warman visits 5G project
5G RuralDorset

Government minister, Matt Warman (partially obscured on the right), visits the Jurassic Coast to see the new project

Testing “gone extremely smoothly”

Bethan Evans, operations director at Excelerate which is leading the public safety element of the project, said:

“The testing of the network is a critical point, and this has gone extremely smoothly. This is testament to the collaboration and hard work of all the teams involved since the project began.

“This testing proved to be a major milestone in how 5G can, and will continue to, play an integral role in improving public safety.” 

5G at Innovation Centre
5G RuralDorset

Dorset Innovation Park near Dorchester is central to the project

Residents “being used as guinea pigs”

But Roma Harding, who has campaigned against 5G in Dorset, said:

“Residents of the Jurassic Coast are effectively being used as guinea pigs. While many people welcome faster connectivity, others have genuine concerns about the effects of electromagnetic microwave radiation on ecology and human health, especially children.”

Mary Jordan-Winter, another campaigner from Weymouth, said: 

“Over 150 studies have raised concerns and indicate this form of radiation potentially causes cancer, so this experimental technology is far from safe. The effects on environmental and public health in the long term are unknown.”

Some residents in Worth Matravers are concerned the mast is too close to homes

“It’s an eyesore”

In Worth Matravers where a mast has been installed, Louise Green, who has an adjacent property, described it as ‘ugly’. She wrote that she wanted to voice her ‘deep concern’ and added she was ‘shocked’ that an alternative site further from housing had not been identified.

Richard Bellis, local resident, said:

“Nobody was really consulted. I don’t like the look of it. It’s an eyesore you can see from miles around.”

Tom Bale, visiting the holiday home that has been in the family since the 1970s, said:

“I suppose it feels like quite a big change. We got used to being in a peaceful enclave with no mobile signal.

“It’s lovely to disconnect but I understand that there are lots of people who are pleased to see it, especially if you live here all the time. You get care systems and delivery drivers who are using mobile phones these days too.”

The mast (centre) is visible from the famous Square and Compass pub

“I’m happy”

Meanwhile, Keith Barker, another resident of Worth Matravers, said:

“I’m happy. At the end of the day the village was in a dark spot, and this is going to improve things because you’ve now got coverage here.”

The network is linked by fibre optic cabling through the Dorset Innovation Park at Winfrith Newburgh, Wool, near Dorchester, to a hub at Westcott in Buckinghamshire.

The 700 MHz frequency range allows coverage of much longer distances along the coast and over water than higher frequency networks.

Matt Warman MP visits 5G buoy
5G RuralDorset

Minister Matt Warman inspects the new 5G sea buoy at Lulworth Cove

Avoids masts at sensitive locations

The developers say the 5G network avoids the need to install masts at sensitive locations on the UNESCO-designated world heritage coastline. 

They say the network offers exciting possibilities. For instance, surf monitoring buoys will supply information about sea conditions to signs on the land. These signs have already been installed at Kimmeridge.

Matt Warman MP, minister for digital infrastructure, went out in a boat on a recent visit to see the first of the new buoys. It’s believed to be the only self-powered floating 5G buoy in the world, powered by the sun.

Matt Warman visits Battle Hub
5G RuralDorset

Government minister Matt Warman (right) at the MOD ‘Battle Lab’

Minister visited the Battle Lab

Matt Warman also toured the Ministry of Defence’s ‘Battle Lab’ workshop at the Dorset Innovation Park which will allow collaboration between the MOD and the tech companies involved.

He said:

“5G is about much more than having a faster mobile phone and I’ve seen some incredible innovation happening across Dorset with the help of government funding…

“What we are learning in Dorset about this technology will help us
improve lives and create new solutions to age-old problems.”

Matt Warman visits
5G RuralDorset

Emergency services are already making use of the system for incidents

“Major milestone”

Lulworth First Responders are paving the way for emergency services to connect to the 5G network when attending incidents.

And, the Future of Food project at Kingston Maurward is running trials to examine how 5G can be employed to monitor cattle health using CCTV cameras and Artificial Intelligence analytics software.

Kieran Arnold, Director of Ubiquitous Connectivity at the Satellite Applications Catapult, said:

“The first real world use of this 700MHz 5G network is a major milestone for the project as well as for the wider connectivity community.”

Information on digital sign
5G RuralDorset

A mock-up of a digital sign like the ones installed at Kimmeridge

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