DCMS allocates £36m in R&D funding for 5G projects
- Future RAN competition rewards 15 companies, including four BT partners.
- UK government distributes funds as part of its Supply Chain Diversification Strategy.
- Also sets target for 35% of UK mobile network traffic to be carried via open RAN by 2030.
- 2G, 3G expected to be retired by 2033 at the latest.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport named the 15 winners of its Future RANcompetition, rewarding them with a combined investment of about £36m (€42m).
The competition — launched in early‑July — aimed to incentivise the industry to create new products and services “to unlock the full potential of open RAN”.
Notably, four of the winners — UK 5G DU‑Volution, Proteus, Scalable Optical Fronthaul for 5G OpenRAN, and Accelerating RAN Intelligence in 5G (ARI‑5G) — are partners of BT and have attracted more than £12m of investment between them, with UK 5G DU‑Volution earning the second‑highest sum of all winners.
The 5G DU‑Volution project aims to “evolve DU [distributed unit] devices to meet industry requirements including reduced power, smaller form factors, improved spectrum efficiency, and reduced latency”. It plans to principally work with UK‑based vendors, “integrating products into an operational DU component ready for deployment in 5G networks”.
At launch, the fund was said to be capped at £30m, but investments appear to have surpassed that mark at approximately £36m.
Launched in 2020, the 5G Diversification Strategy recognises several challenges faced by a sector with longstanding vulnerabilities in its supply chain (BTwatch, #309), and outlines a broad plan to tackle them. The government aims to confront “head‑on” the risk of being overly reliant on a small number of suppliers. At the time, the DCMS acknowledged that dependence on Ericsson and Nokia represented an ”intolerable resilience risk and absent intervention [meaning] it is unlikely that the market will diversify”.
The strategy has three specific objectives:
- Accelerate the development of high‑performance 5G open RAN solutions that meet UK dense urban requirements by 2025.
- Attract new 5G RAN suppliers to conduct R&D in the UK, and foster professional collaborations between potential new entrants into the UK’s public network.
- Contribute to the delivery of the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy’s objectives of disaggregated supply chains, open interfaces by default, and security being a priority in network deployment.
The evolution of RAN
Meanwhile, the government released a joint statement, in tandem with the UK’s MNOs, outlining a plan for 35% of the country’s mobile network traffic to be carried via open RAN by 2030.
While not mandatory, the government is setting out ambitions to build a “more competitive, innovative, and diverse supply base for telecoms” with “partnership and collaboration between government, mobile operators, and the wider telecoms industry”.
“There is more to be done to develop the performance, economics, and security of new RAN solutions so that they become competitive and viable for scale deployments. Therefore, joint activity will include: investment in the research and development, deployment, and adoption of open network technologies; creating the right market environment to foster and encourage innovation; and international partnerships that bring together learning from across the global supply chain.”
As part of the same statement, the government said it anticipates that all public UK 2G and 3G networks will be switched off by 2033. Again, the statement did not appear mandatory, but emphasised the need to free up 5G spectrum and beyond.
“Establishing this date is necessary to provide much‑needed clarity as to the likely commercial longevity of these technologies and will enable users to confidently plan for their future”, said the statement.
Future RAN winners
|Winner||Funding||Project in short|
|Proteus||£3.7m||Parallel Wireless, an open RAN solution architecture, is being designed to deliver capability to develop “intelligent applications that break the dependency with the underlying CPU architecture, whilst ensuring radio system performance”.|
|Future RAN Radio Test System||£365,000||The system hopes to provide a “standardised, cost‑effective, off‑the‑shelf solution” that covers many of the key RF measurements along with the Future RAN optical interface. Aiming to become the “trusted industry standard for 5G radios”, the project hopes to “reduce barriers to entry and encourage radio supply chain diversification”.|
|Towards AI Powered and Secure Carrier‑Grade Open RAN Platform||£1.9m||This project aims to realise a carrier‑grade cloud solution, enabling operators to deploy open RAN network functions “easily and securely”, with a focus on lowering the barrier to entry. It hopes to achieve this with the development of AI‑/ML‑based analytics to lower the cost of operations.|
|Best of British (BoB) RAN Development||£3.3m||BoB is aimed at serving private, local government, and industrial‑owned networks that operate within UK shared and local access spectrum through the development of an innovative small cell within a disaggregated open RAN network.|
|Scalable Optical Fronthaul for 5G OpenRAN||£1.5m||The project will “develop UK‑made, scalable, cost‑effective optical interface technology to enable dense roll out of optical fibre 5G radio access networks with open digital interfaces for interoperability and low latency”.|
|UK 5G DU‑Volution||£4.7m||The 5G DU‑Volution project aims to “evolve DU devices to meet industry requirements including reduced power, smaller form factors, improved spectrum efficiency, and reduced latency”. It plans to work principally with UK‑based vendors, “integrating products into an operational DU component ready for deployment in 5G networks”.|
|ORanGaN||£2.4m||The ORanGaN project will look to develop a sovereign UK supply chain, manufacturing processes, and packaging solutions for radio frequency gallium nitride (RF‑GaN) devices, “which are critical to 5G communications systems electronics hardware”.|
|Energy-efficient Cloudlets for ORAN (ECORAN)||£490,000||ECORAN aims “to reduce the power consumption of the commodity hardware used by introducing novel ways of interconnecting and managing servers, accelerators, storage, and interfaces in small processing cells (cloudlets)”.|
|Accelerating RAN Intelligence in 5G (ARI‑5G)||£2.4m||According to the companies involved, the project will:Explore interoperable architectures while seeding the necessary technical capabilities in the industry.Accelerate the testing of Telecom Infra Project’s RAN Intelligence & Automation’s (TIP‑RIA) use‑cases for vendor interoperability across the E2 interface of the O‑RAN specifications.Validate the xAPP model for different software solutions on the RIC platform.|
|5G Drive||£1.4m||The consortium aims to develop a 5G open and diversified RAN integration solution for private mobile networks, which is “low‑cost, secure, and capable of integrating with public networks”.|
|Secure 5G Platform using Novel, Efficient Wideband PA||£1.1m||The proposal aims to create a “unique and novel” 5G O‑RAN platform able to provide “better efficiency, higher security, and a wide frequency range”, enabling it to be ready for future 5G bands.|
|Flexible, Efficient and High-Performance 5G Open RAN (Flex‑5G)||£4.7m||The Flex‑5G solution is designed to help realise a complete 5G SA network, which the project said can “increase the performance and efficiency, improve upgradability, customisation to use‑cases, robustness, and security through software patches and configuration options”.|
|Beacon‑5G||£1.6m||Beacon‑5G aims to develop an end‑to‑end 5G system with a broader vision to “realise a high‑performance 5G system with built‑in capabilities of openness, security, and trustworthiness that can be rapidly reconfigured and optimised for operation in diverse industry‑ and consumer-centric applications, in dense urban local/private as well as in public/carrier environments”.|
|Coordinated Multipoint Open Radio Access Network (CoMP‑O‑RAN)||£4.7m||The project hopes to “revolutionise the performance and cost of densified 5G New Radio (NR) outdoor small‑cell clusters”. The integration of standard open radio access network technology with mmWave transport systems ”enables the deployment of disaggregated multi‑transmission and reception multi‑node 5G NR without the need for excessive fibre, which drives down capital-intensive deployment costs”, CoMP‑O‑RAN said.|
|O‑RANOS||£1.9m||O-RANOS’s main motivation is to address key architectural and technological challenges for deploying end‑to‑end O‑RAN multi‑domain (private–public) interoperable network solutions. According to the project statement, this will enable the creation of new business models that can be used “for both enterprise and public sector customers, as well as developing new use‑cases”.|