UK government sets up body to make UK ‘world-leading’ centre for telecoms innovation

UK Telecoms Innovation Network to ‘unleash innovation’ in broadband and mobile network companies, guiding firms seeking R&D funding or collaboration on Open RAN and other disruptive technologies

As it basks in the news that two-thirds of UK premises can now access gigabit broadband, the UK government is turning its attention to the mobile sector and has released plans to fund a new organisation dedicated to boosting innovation in the country’s telecoms supply chain.

The aim of the new UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN) is to position the UK as a world leader in telecoms research and development (R&D). The body will act as an information point for telecoms companies looking to access funding or testing facilities for R&D and opportunities to collaborate on developing new and improved technologies for UK mobile and broadband networks.

The UKTIN will be run by a consortium of organisations with telecoms expertise and will support knowledge sharing and collaboration on open and interoperable network technologies such as Open RAN, which allows telecoms companies to mix and match telecoms equipment rather than having to rely on a single supplier when building or maintaining networks. 

The UK government considers such technology as crucial to its £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 on equipment from suppliers such as Huawei in 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 its Diversification Taskforce, aiming to 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 UK’s mobile network operators on the roll-out of Open RAN built using a variety of equipment suppliers through 5G mobile networks.

“The UK Telecoms Innovation Network...is about making the UK the best place in the world to develop rapid and seamless new technology for the digital networks that will power our economy well into the 21st century”
Julia Lopez, UK digital infrastructure minister

Setting up the UKTIN was also a key recommendations in 2021 by the Diversification Taskforce. The UKTIN will be tasked with creating an up-to-date database of information on R&D funding in the public and private sectors, and will create an annual report that maps out the latest developments and opportunities in disruptive and innovative telecoms technology in the UK, including Open RAN.

Commenting on the development of the UKTIN, UK digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez said: “The UK Telecoms Innovation Network will be the first port of call for any telecoms company looking to access R&D funding and a matchmaker for firms looking to join forces on cutting-edge projects.

“Ultimately, this is about making the UK the best place in the world to develop rapid and seamless new technology for the digital networks that will power our economy well into the 21st century.”

To give impetus to the new concern, the UK government has launched a competition for organisations to apply for up to £10m to establish and run the centre. The government is asking applicants to submit two bids – one for £5m and another for £10m – and it will then determine which bid represents the best value for money. The deadline for applications is noon on 20 May 2022.

The UKTIN is expected to be up and running by the end of 2021, with the winning consortium announced in the summer. 

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