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October 16, 2023
Project NAVIGATE – part of the UK’s Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition – has selected NEC and Freshwave to rustle up a multi-operator neutral host small cell solution for high traffic areas.
Project NAVIGATE stands for Neutral host Architecture Validation Innovates Globally Applicable Telecoms Enablers. In terms of the wider ecosystem of acronyms that represent the UK government’s various efforts to seed the Open RAN space, the ONE competition to which NAVIGATE belongs is in turn part of the government’s £250 million 5G Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Strategy.
This also includes Future RAN Competition (FRANC), Future Open Networks Research Challenge, and entities such as the SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC) Labs, the UK Telecoms Innovation Network, and the UK Telecoms Lab.
NAVIGATE is set up to design and test a blueprint for deploying open and sharable 4G and 5G capacity in High Density Deployment (HDD) environments – or in other words areas of high congestion such as city centers or sports stadiums where lots of phones are trying to connect at once.
It’s intended as a demonstration of how Open RAN can be deployed at scale, as does the other 19 projects within the ONE Competition in some way shape or form. £7.42 million is being spent on this bit in particular, with the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) throwing in £3.32 million and the remainder being stumped up by NEC and Freshwave.
In terms of what the two firms will actually be building and testing, a small cell solution based on NEC’s Open vRAN software will be set up in a dense urban area in London. The intention of this is apparently not only to showcase that this sort of Open RAN solution is technically and operationally viable, but more cost-effective and energy-efficient compared to legacy single RAN networks as well.
It also ‘supports the multi-operator neutral host network to facilitate the deployment of Open RAN, enabling all UK mobile operators’ networks to connect to it.’
“NEC is delighted to have been selected by DSIT to provide a neutral host, Open RAN, high density demand outdoor solution”, said Hideyuki Ogata, General Manager, 5G Solution Department, NEC. “NEC aims to deploy a reference architecture based on its Open vRAN software that will support the diversification of the telecom supply chain, while accelerating market developments to provide a cost-effective and energy-efficient solution based on Open Standards.
“Drawing on NHOD (Neutral Host Outdoor) specifications, our solution will enable mobile network operators to offer new wireless services and improve coverage and capacity, without having to deploy and manage separate infrastructure. NEC’s Open vRAN software solution is a critical part of the strategy for enabling the adoption of Open RAN on a global scale.”
Tom Bennett, CTO at Freshwave added: “We’re excited to have been successful in the Open Networks Ecosystem Competition and looking forward to collaborating with the other members of the consortium. As a leading neutral host provider, advancing shareable infrastructure through telecoms ecosystem collaboration is in our DNA, and part of our day-to-day delivery for customers.
“The more shareable the digital infrastructure, the more reduced the costs – leading to wider use cases, quicker and subsequently more community and economic benefits. And our experience has shown that this all becomes even more true when we stay true to our fundamental design principle that the operators retain full architectural and operational control.”
The news is escorted by the usual claims that this sort of thing will stimulate innovation in the Open RAN space, which the government has dropped quite a few pots of money around in the pursuit of in recent years.
Much like eating at a tapas restaurant, while the individual sums put behind each one of these projects are relatively small (£7.42 million in this case) compared to something like Ericsson’s R&D budget which is measured in the billions, there are a lot of them to go round.
Now it’s signed the Global Coalition on Telecommunications (GCOT) with Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US, it will be interesting to see if and how the UK’s strategy towards trying to accelerate the market evolves into something larger and more collaborative in the future.
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