Government opens £30m competition ‘to make UK a 5G pioneer’

Contest invites ideas to expedite the development of Open RAN technologies

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The government has launched a competition through which it will award up to £30m of funding for research and development projects it hopes can make the UK a “pioneer” in the development of 5G technologies.

The Future RAN Competition forms part of a wider 5G diversification strategy through which the government wishes the reduce the reliance of the UK – and the rest of the world – on a handful of manufacturers of telecoms equipment. This work has been given far greater urgency by the decision to bar operators from buying any more kit from Huawei for use in their 5G networks, as of January 2021. The Chinese vendor’s technology must be entirely expunged by 2027, the government has decreed.

The FRANC programme is inviting submissions from “tech and telecoms innovators” with proposals they believe could expedite the adoption of Open RAN technologies. The concept of Open RAN is founded on the idea that, in the future, telecoms networks could be built with technology from a range of different providers – all of which would be committed to the use of common standards and ensuring the interoperability of their hardware and software offerings.

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According to the government, “there are still barriers to Open RAN being used over more traditional mobile network technology” in which a single vendor owns and operates a network, over which it has complete control.

To help further the use of multi-vendor environments, FRANC is open for proposals related to areas such as “issues around power efficiency, the management of radio wave spectrum resource, the availability of advanced software platforms, systems integration and security”.

Applications are now open until 27 August and potential participants can attend a launch event – to be hosted sometime next week – to find out more. A “matchmaking event” for those interested in forming a consortium will also be announced in due course.

Once applications have closed, a shortlist will be drawn up and those on the list will be asked to attend an interview. Successful applicants are due to notified around mid-October, with grant funding agreements signed in late 2021 or early 2022.

Digital infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said: “This competition aims to get some of our most creative minds helping the UK safely and securely deliver the amazing benefits of 5G for people and businesses. It is a major part of our plans to harness the country’s tech prowess, open up the telecoms market, and create new jobs and investment as we build back better from the pandemic.”

Matthew Evans, director of markets at industry body techUK, added: “We find ourselves at the start of a challenging period of time, with pressure on rolling out 5G at pace whilst ensuring our networks are resilient, secure and future proof. That’s why it’s important that government bring forward further plans on supporting open and disaggregated networks, from technical standards to a long-term R&D roadmap.”


Sam Trendall

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