O2/NEC

DCMS taps Arqit for 5G project to provide Open RAN security by default

Quantum platform-as-a-service provider joins government’s programme to drive diversity in comms technology supply with the aim of integrating a novel quantum encryption service to enable security by default

The UK government has selected quantum encryption technology provider Arqit Quantum to develop a wideband solution for 5G cellular open radio access network (Open RAN) platforms.

Funded as part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and the Future RAN Competition (FRANC), the project, in which Arqit is a partner, aims to democratise radio access networks (RANs) in order to end supplier lock-in and improve flexibility, affordability and interoperability. These qualities are all key to the government’s recently announced plan to see 35% of UK cellular traffic carried over Open RAN architectures by 2030, for which it is providing £36m in funding for 15 projects to trial the technology across Scotland, Wales and England.

The background to the programme is the UK’s introduction of the Telecommunications Security Act, which was announced in December 2021 and forms part of the government’s £250m ambition to build a more competitive, innovative and diverse supply chain for telecoms, to reduce over-reliance on a few equipment makers. It comes in the wake of the ban of equipment from suppliers such as Huawei from 5G mobile network infrastructures.

The government believes a current barrier for new suppliers entering the UK’s 5G market is that, as it stands, they must offer 2G or 3G services because they are required by all four domestic mobile operators. It has set out a timeline for winding down these services following recommendations from the Diversification Taskforce and will allow new suppliers to enter the market by giving them certainty on when they can start building 5G networks across the country.

Another essential element in realising these plans is to work with the MNOs on the roll-out of Open RAN built using a variety of equipment suppliers through 5G mobile networks.

But to reach its ambition, the government said it understood more work was needed to develop the performance, economics and security of new RAN solutions so they become competitive and viable for scale deployments. The 15 winning FRANC consortiums will develop the technical solutions – such as radio transmitters, signal processing equipment, power management systems and software – required to roll out Open RAN systems across the UK quickly and attract new home-grown telecoms suppliers to the 5G supply chain.

Arqit will be working alongside other partners to secure a new wideband solution for 5G cellular Open RAN platforms. The project will see it incorporate its QuantumCloud platform to enable security by design. This, said the company, makes the security of 5G unbreakable, even by a quantum computer.

“We are delighted that Arqit has been chosen as a partner on DCMS’s FRANC project,” said David Williams, founder, chairman and CEO of Arqit. “This project will benefit from Arqit’s globally unique, transformational quantum safe encryption, which will be a major step in securing the wider network and its devices.”

The Arqit announcement comes as UK mobile operators Vodafone and BT announced that they have embarked on major trials of Open RAN technology, switching on test sites at locations across the country.

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