Open RAN is a pivotal moment for industry collaboration

OpenRAN offers many benefits and it’s clear that continued collaboration across key industry stakeholders, as well as government backing, is needed to take advantage of all it has to offer and enable us to utilise the technology to its full potential.

Guest author

March 29, 2023

5 Min Read
now open sign neon periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this pieceAndrew Thomas, Innovation Manager at Cellnex UK, explains why he thinksd collaboration is key to unlocking Open RAN’s potential.

The telecoms industry is currently faced with many new opportunities and challenges, from keeping up with customer expectation and demand, to an increased pressure to meet Government objectives. The UK Government’s Wireless 2030 report, which looked at challenges and considerations to support meeting the future demand for wireless connectivity, highlighted OpenRAN as one of the current innovations that has huge potential to shape the sector in years to come. The industry as a whole must therefore recognise the role it has to play in making this innovation a success.

OpenRAN is relatively new technology and provides a robust opportunity to reduce the costs of deploying 5G coverage and meet growing demand for efficient connectivity through the use of shared resources. OpenRAN allows for interoperability on a given site, which is something we lack currently. It provides us with the ability to pick and choose between different hardware and software, and the shared nature of this technology allows smaller suppliers greater opportunity for entry to market by eliminating the need for one supplier to provide all the solutions for a given site. With this in mind, there is huge potential to drive competition and innovation, with greater opportunities for many businesses across the UK.

All of this means OpenRAN has an opportunity to make an impactful contribution to the UK’s digital divide and to the levelling up of the whole country through supporting the acceleration of rural 5G deployments, improving network coverage and resiliency, opening up new business opportunities and encouraging an increase in digital skills.

We can also see the future potential for real growth in small suppliers across the UK, providing investment in what is a key innovation not just for the country, but globally too. However, the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy has clearly demonstrated that there are currently barriers to research & development, such as the need for significant investment to complete in the market, as well as to support emerging suppliers. There are also challenges with the current supply chain and a need to ‘incentivise network operators to diversify’ too. As yet, we are only at the tip of the iceberg of this potential, and further investment is required in order to bring these benefits to life.

Collaboration holds the key to unlocking OpenRAN

As with any new approach, there is a real need to better understand how to utilise OpenRAN effectively but, the complexities of rolling it out to market means shared knowledge from multiple perspectives will be an important part of development – no single organisation has the answer. Whilst key players may be keen to work on their own strategies for OpenRAN, cross-industry collaboration is vital to breaking down research and development barriers, supporting system integration, overcoming IT hurdles and encouraging the widespread adoption of this holy grail.

Steps are being taken to foster this collaborative approach to OpenRAN, with the Government-backed Project O-RANOS bringing together key partners including Cellnex UK, University of Bristol, AttoCore, Parallel Wireless, the Satellite Applications Catapult and Weaver Labs. The project, part-funded by the DCMS (now DSIT) Future Radio Access Network

Competition (FRANC), intends to unlock the full potential of OpenRAN in the UK and provides real opportunity to build knowledge of the landscape and work with industry and academic partners to further develop our understanding of what this key innovation could look like in the future. As part of the project, we are collaborating on the development of a new software-based platform to create a testbed for both public and private 5G cellular networks, as well as providing backhaul over the LEO-Satellite Constellation – a world first.

Levelling the innovative playing field

OpenRAN offers many benefits and it’s clear that continued collaboration across key industry stakeholders, as well as government backing, is needed to take advantage of all it has to offer and enable us to utilise the technology to its full potential. If we work together now, we can troubleshoot potential challenges and make real progress to ready OpenRAN for use across the sector which will be key to its success.

We could see a future where the industry champions diversity, competition and innovation. More specialist suppliers will be given greater opportunity to compete, more innovative technology can make its way to market, with this diversity also breaking down the potential for supply chain issues too.

OpenRAN also has many implications in accelerating rural 5G deployments by offering a wide range of additional use cases, including smart agriculture, maritime applications and enhanced connectivity at sea. It also creates the potential for new specialist jobs, improving network coverage and resiliency, and bolstering the UK’s market readiness by delivering new software solutions that can be exported.

Investment into OpenRAN technology and innovation must be at the forefront of the sector and is crucial to bringing this innovative technology to life. With the Government’s goal to boost OpenRAN deployments to reach a target of 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic by 2030, investment into research and development, as well as continued collaboration will play an important role in unlocking its potential.

Whilst there are still challenges to overcome, OpenRAN will play a key role in providing robust connectivity across the UK. It is clear that OpenRAN is an innovative and cost-effective solution that can deliver more streamlined network coverage. With dedicated funding and support we must work together to further this innovative technology and to enable a new, universal network that will deliver endless benefits across the UK.


Andrew-Thomas-150x150.jpgAndrew has over thirty years of experience in the Mobile industry, working in Research and Development and Innovation roles across the sector. Andrew has played a key part in the development of mobile device networks and in creating use-cases for 5G. Andrew is currently Innovation Manager at Cellnex UK, leading multi-partner innovation initiatives including the ORANOS project for DSIT-funded Project FRANC.


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