UK splashes cash on more Open RAN R&D

  • UK state is “unleashing innovation” by funding research into Open RAN
  • The idea is to develop the technology to allow operators to mix and match equipment… 
  • … and so prevent vendor lock-in
  • There’s even a smidgen of spare change left over for UK-Republic of Korea research into Open RAN too

The UK, or much of England at least, is enjoying (or enduring, depending on your point of view) a particularly hot, sunny and practically rain-free summer. Obviously, something’s amiss. Now that schools have broken up and parliament is in recess until 5 September, we are drifting into the annual silly season where, under normal circumstances, hard news stories are hard to come by and froth and triviality become the order of the dog days. What with the protracted and puerile election of a new leader of the governing Conservative Party crushing the national spirit, and the existing resident of 10 Downing Street (who has resigned but is insisting on holding on in a caretaker capacity) having given up any pretence of doing any work, the UK government is barely functioning, as senior ministers have been forced publicly to admit. So it was with some slight surprise this morning when an email from (“The best place to find government services and information. Simpler, Clearer, Faster”) plopped into the TelecomTV editorial inbox and it was found to be actually relevant. 

It turns out to be a mish-mash amalgam of two new announcements which, in more normal times would have merited a release each, but now come bundled together under a tenuous radio access network (RAN) connection, just to get them out of the door. It seems the UK government is going to “fire-up innovation in 5G and 6G” to ensure that “mobile phone networks of the future will have more choice of technologies and suppliers, in the latest government boost to delivering more innovative, secure and resilient telecoms networks.” If you say so…

It’ll work like this: as part of a government plan to “unleash innovation”, universities and “telecoms firms” can apply for “up to” £25m in R&D funding to develop “the next generation of 5G and 6G network equipment”. The Future Open Networks Research Challenge scheme will enable academics and the industry “to conduct early-stage research into open and interoperable telecoms solutions, such as open radio access network (Open RAN), for use in 5G and future networks such as 6G.”  

The government says the cash, which is part of the total £250m it is pumping into the Open Networks R&D Fund, will help “accelerate the development of this technology which allows operators to mix and match equipment rather than relying on a single supplier when building or maintaining networks”. The aim is to construct more secure and resilient broadband and mobile infrastructure by “boosting competition and innovation within the telecoms supply chain”.

Simultaneously, £10m has been set aside for the launch of the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), “a new body dedicated to boosting creativity in the country’s telecoms supply chain”. The idea is that the UKTIN will be an “information and ideas hub for industry and academics looking to access funding or R&D testing facilities and opportunities to collaborate on developing new mobile and broadband technology.” 

Cambridge Wireless (CW), Digital Catapult, the University of Bristol, and West Midlands 5G have been named as the winning consortium tasked with setting up and overseeing the UKTIN.

The UK’s new Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman, is also a master of cliché, an invaluable asset in his latest post, and he brought his full powers to bear when he gushingly enthused: “The seamless connectivity and blistering speeds of 5G and then 6G will power a tech revolution which will enrich people’s lives and fire up productivity across the economy. It’s why we’re investing millions and partnering with international allies to unleash innovation and develop new ways to make these networks more secure, resilient and less reliant on a handful of suppliers.” 

Still, he’s new to the job having only been appointed on 7 July after his predecessor, Julia Lopez, resigned as the government went into meltdown. Given the rate of attrition amongst ministers at the moment, Warman could well find himself reassigned once more when the new Prime Minister takes office on 5 September.

UK-Republic of Korea competition “to improve power efficiency in Open RAN networks”

The second part of the release is small and weak beer indeed. It is the announcement that the UK is to invest £1.6m (or “chickenfeed” as Boris Johnson likes to call such piffling sums) in a joint-funded £3.6m competition with the Republic of Korea to collaborate on a world-first research and development (R&D) project to accelerate the development of Open RAN technology.

“Each country will fund a group of several companies to work together to accelerate the development of technical solutions to improve power efficiency in Open RAN networks. Power consumption is a major operating cost, so the work will support wider adoption of Open RAN technologies, reduce operating costs and support net zero ambitions.”

The UK-Republic of Korea Competition is open to applications from consortia with two or more members from relevant industry, academic or public sector organisations, with funding available for activity taking place in the UK. Bids must be submitted by noon on 20 September 2022. 

And that’s it. Quite an attention grabber eh? But don’t drop the dead donkey just yet…

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