UK government looks to universities, Korea to develop 5G diversity plans

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As it comes to terms with its strategy to boost competition and innovation in the telecoms supply chain, the UK government has announced it is introducing a new scheme for universities to develop 5G and 6G comms services, expanding its UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN) and launching a £3.6m competition with the Republic of Korea to collaborate on what the countries called a world-first R&D project to accelerate the development of Open RAN technology. 

The UK government considers Open RAN 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, after its ban on equipment from suppliers such as Huawei in 5G mobile network infrastructures.

In June 2021, the UK government announced that it was funding a new laboratory to speed up the development of 5G communication kit and boost diversity, and in March this year, it released plans to fund a new organisation dedicated to boosting innovation in the country’s telecoms supply chain, UKTIN.

The body was set up to position the UK as a world leader in telecoms research and development (R&D), acting 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. It will be run by a consortium of organisations with telecoms expertise, and support knowledge sharing and collaboration on open and interoperable network of technologies such as Open RAN.

In its latest development, the UK government has awarded £10m to launch the facility, which is expected to be up and running in September, at which point it will begin to take over from UK5G to help organisations get the most out of what the UK has to offer.

Digital Catapult, Cambridge Wireless, the University of Bristol and West Midlands 5G have been revealed as the winners of the competition to set up and oversee the network. Commenting on the award, Digital Catapult CEO Jeremy Silver said: “With the UK Telecoms Innovation Network, we have an exciting opportunity to transform UK telecoms into a growing, resilient, secure and globally significant sector.

“The UK has many strengths, but our ecosystem across research, development and innovation is fragmented. I am proud to be joined by a strong consortium of partners … who each bring their own expertise and experience that will prove vital in coalescing and expanding our ecosystem and driving future UK capabilities.”

Aiming to advance 5G development, the UK government has announced the Future Open Networks Research Challenge, whereby universities and telecoms firms are invited to apply for up to £25m to research and develop the next generation of 5G and 6G network equipment. The scheme will fund several consortia of universities and suppliers to conduct early stage research and development of telecom services sustaining openness and interoperability for 5G and future networks such as 6G.

The projects will draw on the UK’s depth of research, development and industrial capability to ensure that open and interoperable telecoms services become commercially viable and suitable for inclusion in future telecoms standards.

The £25m will boost the skills of the next generation to enter the workforce, enhance educational capabilities, and bring expertise to a broader range of universities and businesses that will support the UK to grow presence and influence in the global supply chain.

Consortia applying for the Future Open Networks Research Challenge should be led by universities with the participation of at least one large supplier, and can also include mobile network operators and other industrial partners. Proposals must be submitted by 3 October, but consortia can submit an optional expression of interest until 12 August to receive feedback from DCMS on their proposed research ideas. Application guidance is available on Gov.uk

The Korean and UK governments have decided to fund a group of companies to accelerate the development of technical offerings to improve power efficiency in Open RAN networks. Power consumption is a major operating cost, and so the work will support wider adoption of Open RAN technologies, reduce operating costs and support net-zero ambitions.

The two countries are launching a joint-funded £3.6m world-first R&D competition – £1.6m from the UK – to accelerate the development of Open RAN technology. The competition is open to applications from consortia with two or more members from relevant industry, academic or public sector organisations, with funding available for activity taking place in the UK. Bids must be submitted by noon on 20 September. Application guidance is also available on Gov.uk.



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