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Cash injection of £88m announced for UK 5G mobile network R&D

Latest part of UK government plan to boost mobile services sees funding awarded to 19 projects through the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition designed to demonstrate the feasibility and reliability of open 5G connectivity

As it aims to make good on its commitment to boost fixed and wireless connectivity throughout the country, the UK government has revealed that sporting venues and tourism hotspots are to see trials of new mobile tech to increase the resilience of the mobile network, thanks to £88m of research and development investment in “innovative connectivity technology”.

The investment is part of the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition which itself is an element of the government’s £250m 5G Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, designed to fostering telecoms R&D projects, including Future RAN Competition (FRANC), Future Open Networks Research Challenge, and entities like SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC Labs), UK Telecoms Innovation Network, and UK Telecoms Lab.

ONE launched on 14 March 2023 to offer organisations funding to develop software and hardware products for enhanced open and interoperable technology, including funding for demonstrations of Open RAN technologies in high-demand density environments. The ONE competition was constructed to help deliver on the UK’s ambition to be a global leader in telecoms research and development through investment in cutting-edge open hardware and software.

The 19 successful projects in the ONE Competition are designed to demonstrate the reliability and feasibility of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies and showcase their role in delivering resilient and future-proofed connectivity to UK citizens and businesses. To that end, the ONE competition was designed to demonstrate how this new way of building mobile networks can deliver fast, dependable connectivity in busy places where many people need wireless connections.

The UK government believes Open RAN solutions will make UK mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing “lightning-fast” connections across the country.  Moreover, it regards OpenRAN development as a cornerstone in its plans to diversity essential technologies in the UK’s national comms infrastructure and support development in the wake of removing technology from so-called high-risk suppliers, in particular Huawei.

The country’s major mobile network operators – BT/EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2, and Vodafone–  have endorsed the UK’s Open RAN Principles and the firms were signatories to a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) reaffirmed the ambition for 35% of the UK’s network traffic to pass through open and interoperable RAN technologies by 2030.

The UK government is confident the funding will enable the successful projects to develop and demonstrate a range of innovative technological solutions to improve connectivity in places with some of the biggest demand on mobile services. This includes busy locations such as cities, airports, stadiums, or large venues where many people use their devices simultaneously, posing a challenge for mobile networks to handle high levels of traffic.

The new projects will initiate trials of open 5G networks across the country, in major urban centres in Glasgow, Cambridge, Liverpool, Bath, and the City of London; sports and entertainment venues including Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, the National eSport Arena, Cambridge Corn Exchange, and Shelsley Walsh motorsport venue; as well as the seaside resorts of Blackpool and Worthing.

Running until March 2025, the new projects are part of the government’s Open Networks Research and Development Fund, dedicated to building secure and resilient communications infrastructure and enhancing competition and innovation within the 5G telecoms supply chain.

“Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business,” said UK minister for data and digital infrastructure John Whittingdale. “To secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network.”

 Nick Johnson, head of UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), added: “The government’s funding to tackle adoption barriers of open mobile networks is another significant contribution to the telecoms industry, and again highlights the important role the sector plays in driving connectivity and economic growth in the UK.

“Building a diversified telecoms infrastructure in the UK is crucial to unlocking opportunities for growth and creating a prosperous future. The projects announced today, in support of that mission, will both deliver exciting innovations and consider how to overcome some of the tricky but important challenges to wide-scale deployments.”

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