UK government offers more cash for Open RAN R&D

The UK government is dangling £25 million of funding in front of telcos and universities for 5G and 6G network equipment R&D, which essentially means Open RAN.

Mary Lennighan

July 26, 2022

3 Min Read
UK government offers more cash for Open RAN R&D

The UK government is dangling £25 million of funding in front of telcos and universities for 5G and 6G network equipment R&D, which essentially means Open RAN.

It’s not a huge amount of money, but the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) is keen to extract as much publicity out of it as possible. And it’s a further sign of the government’s ongoing drive to increase vendor diversification and push on the Open RAN ecosystem.

In the government’s own words, the Future Open Networks Research Challenge is designed to enable academics and the industry to conduct early-stage research into open and interoperable telecoms solutions, such as Open RAN, for use in 5G and future networks like 6G.

DCMS says its £25 million will fund “several consortia of universities and suppliers” in early-stage research projects geared towards ensuring the commercial viability of open and interoperable telecoms solutions. It expects participants in the competition to “conduct research impacting future technology roadmaps with the goal that openness and interoperability are embedded in future network architectures and systems by default.”

In addition, it’s looking for an active contribution to future networks and the UK’s 6G vision, as well as aiming to boost the UK’s influence in standardisation, strengthen the country’s telecoms R&D, and drive engagement with other relevant bodies and government initiatives.

The challenge opens on Tuesday and would-be participants have until midday on 3 October to submit their proposals, although there are also some optional interim deadlines for feedback. The government will assess the entries by 14 October. Approved projects will commence at the start of next year and will run until the end of March 2025.

The competition is open to university-led consortiums that include at least one large RAN vendor and can also include mobile network operators and other industrial partners.

The technologies developed via the projects “will need to be commercially attractive to large vendors, MNOs and Venture Capitalists, and promote diversification in future network architectures,” DCMS said.

Indeed, the whole concept has its roots in the government’s Telecoms Diversification Taskforce, set up in 2020 in the wake of the Huawei security furore. One of the taskforce’s recommendations was for investment into R&D geared towards overcoming the major technical barriers to Open RAN, which initially led to the launch of the Future RAN Competition (FRANC) that came with a £30 million pot of cash for Open RAN R&D. As an aside, there were 15 winning bidders under FRANC with projects totalling £38 million.

There have been other initiatives since, including the creation of the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN) earlier this year, a new R&D unit backed by £10 million of government money. It is due to be up and running in September, led by a consortium made up of Digital Catapult, CW (Cambridge Wireless), University of Bristol and West Midlands 5G.

The launch of the Future Open Networks Research Challenge comes alongside the inauguration of yet another contest, this time funded jointly with South Korea. The UK will contribute £1.6 million to the £3.6 million competition that will see each country fund a group of companies working 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,” DCMS said.

As mentioned previously, we’re not talking about massive sums, but the recurrence of these types of state-backed R&D project give a strong indication of the government’s ongoing desire to push forward its vendor diversification strategy,


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About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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