UK invests £88M in Open RAN initiatives transforming mobile connectivity

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The UK Government has invested £88 million into 19 groundbreaking Open RAN initiatives under the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition.

Open RAN technology represents a paradigm shift in how mobile networks are built. Rather than relying solely on a single company’s equipment, it allows various companies’ technologies to be interoperable.

Nick Johnson, Head of UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), said: 

“The Government’s funding to tackle adoption barriers of open mobile networks is another significant contribution to the telecoms industry, and once 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.”

By adopting Open RAN, mobile networks are set to become more adaptable, flexible, and resilient. The exile of Chinese vendors from many 5G networks in the West highlighted the need for greater vendor diversity.

The £88 million investment will empower the selected projects to develop and demonstrate innovative Open RAN solutions, particularly in areas with high mobile service demands. This includes bustling cities, airports, stadiums, and large venues where numerous users strain mobile networks with data traffic.

Key locations for these Open RAN trials include:

  • Major urban centres in Glasgow, Cambridge, Liverpool, Bath, and the City of London.
  • Iconic sports and entertainment venues, such as Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, the National eSport Arena, Cambridge Corn Exchange, and Shelsley Walsh motorsport venue.
  • The historic seaside resorts of Blackpool and Worthing.

Sir John Whittingdale, the Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, emphasised the importance of a diverse and secure technology landscape:

“The projects we’re backing today with £88 million in government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.”

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

Major mobile network operators BT/EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2, and Vodafone have endorsed the UK’s Open RAN Principles. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has also been established, reaffirming the ambitious goal for 35 percent of the UK’s network traffic to pass through open and interoperable Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies by 2030.

Hamish MacLeod, Chief Executive of Mobile UK, highlighted the importance of Open RAN solutions for the mobile industry:

“The development of open and interoperable RAN solutions is important to the UK’s mobile industry. This announcement highlights Mobile UK’s member operator’s ongoing R&D trial and deployment programmes, helping progress solutions to realise ambitions to grow traffic over open RAN architecture.”

This latest announcement from the UK government aligns with Vodafone’s recent commencement of Open RAN equipment installation at 2,500 sites in Wales and the South-West of England.

As the UK’s mobile network infrastructure undergoes transformation with Open RAN, the future holds promise for improved connectivity, increased resilience, and a more diverse and competitive telecoms industry.

These trials in iconic venues and urban centres across the UK will serve as living proof of these advancements, ensuring that citizens and businesses can benefit from lightning-fast and dependable mobile connectivity for years to come.

A list of successful ONE competition projects is available here.

See also: UK to rejoin EU’s Copernicus and Horizon schemes

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