In 2017, a Tech City UK report stated Bournemouth and Poole had the highest concentration of high-growth digital technology businesses in the country. Now, Lansdowne has been identified as the ‘test bed’ for 5G connectivity as The Smart Place Pilot Project ushers Bournemouth into a technical revolution.
Since the invention of the smartphone, users have faced the struggle to either find sufficient Wi-Fi access outside their homes, or make use of sometimes pricey data plans. The new 5G access promises not only to put an end to that, with free public Wi-Fi, but to also offer new investment opportunities, increased employment and greater potential for innovation.
The pilot will launch what is known as an ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT) in the area, a system in which devices ranging from children’s toys to mobile phones and even ‘smart’ fridges can be interconnected, not only with the internet but with each other. Providing the area’s manufacturing, health and social care sectors with 5G-compatible equipment that forms part of this IoT, alongside the improved Wi-Fi connection, is expected to create around 200 new jobs at the site of the project in the first two years, and add £137 million to the local economy by 2030.
Finding the funds
Funding for the plan has come from Dorset Local Enterprise Partnership (LEP), who allocated £1 million of the government’s Local Growth Fund to BCP Council, who then added a further £330,000 to the total, and carried out a detailed public consultation on 5G, including addressing concerns over potential health issues.
Dorset LEP has also allocated £380,000 of the Local Growth Fund to BCP Council for the creation of a Dorset Smart Place Investment Plan, which will be used to attract investments of up to £1 billion in new digital connectivity and technology. The plan will include assessing commercial and business models, the cost of implementing and managing new digital infrastructures, the potential savings for public services and the evaluation of potential economic, social and health benefits.
‘Improved digital infrastructure throughout the conurbation’
Chair of Dorset LEP, Jim Stewart, said: “We are incredibly excited about these two projects, which will put Bournemouth ahead of competitor towns and cities in the UK as a leader in digital communications. Creating a digital test bed in Dorset will lead to new investment, new employment, innovation, higher productivity and sustainable economic impact and growth.
“Unlike previous wireless technologies which have been mainly focused on mobile phones, this new technology will enable machine-to-machine connectivity at a massive scale with high performance functionalities like real time and an enhanced broadband communication.
“This opens up huge new opportunities for local manufacturers and integrators and could see Dorset lead on the development of 5G-enabled machines. Existing businesses could diversify by creating new digital portfolios and new businesses could be established.
“Ultimately our aim is to see an improved digital infrastructure throughout the conurbation and the rest of the county.”
One of the companies who will benefit from The Smart Place Pilot Project is X-tention UK, an IT company in Bournemouth town centre. Sales Director Mike Morris, said: “We are delighted to be part of a local project that will use technology to benefit the population of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole, even those who are disenfranchised and would often sit on the wrong side of the digital divide. The BCP area can move forward from COVID-19 as a fairer community with new opportunities and social funding, with 5G providing a more accessible method of connecting to local facilities and organisations.”
‘A massive boost’
Vikki Slade, Leader of BCP Council, concludes; “We are delighted to be pushing forward with Smart Place Pilot and are excited to see the results of the Dorset Smart Place Investment Plan.
“We already have a large digital and creative sector based at Lansdowne and the pilot will be a massive boost to what has already become a leading business district in the region.
“This new age of connectivity is not just about faster mobile phone speeds through 5G. It will enable machines to connect to the internet and share large amounts of data simultaneously, sparking new business innovations. It will also help us understand how 5G and other new technologies could help improve public services and quality of life for residents.”