The UK Government has announced the winners of a competition to provide funding to projects with and Open RAN focus.
The Future Radio Access Network Competition (FRANC ) has granted a total of £36 million to 15 projects consortia, containing a wide array of network, IT and other companies.
The winners were announced on the same day as the Government said that it had agreed with UK MNOs an ambition to carry 35% of network traffic over networks with an “open and interoperable architecture” by 2030. If that looks like a vague and non-mandated promise, then the trials represent a more direct intervention, with money directly headed to many British companies and institutions. Of course the commercial impact of research outcomes is another matter.
The UK already has an ongoing Testbeds and Trials programme, so this is additional trial activity on top of that programme. A Government statement said that the FRANC winners would, “develop technical solutions – such as radio transmitters, signal processing equipment, power management systems and the software – required to roll out open RAN solutions across the UK quickly and attract new home-grown telecoms suppliers to the 5G supply chain.”
These latest 15 can be viewed in full here. There’s a wide range of companies involved, many of them British based, as well as a range of UK Universities.
They include the £3.7 million Proteus, which includes Parallel Wireless and BT, and will look to develop applications that “break the dependency on the underlying hardware platform”. The problem statement here is that equipment vendors are hampered in their ability to adopt silicon innovations. Project Proteus is developing an Open RAN solution architecture that abstracts from the underlying hardware platform.
One of the biggest funding blocks goes to Uk 5G DU-Volution, which has snared £4.6 million to find a project to evolve the DU (Distributed Unit) to meet industry requirements including reduced power, smaller form factors, improved spectrum efficiency and reduced latency. Du-Volution will integrate products into an operational DU component ready for deployment in 5G networks, and is supported by ADVA Optical, AccelerComm and BT.
Another large award – £4.6 million – goes to Flex-5G. Flex-5G stands for Flexible, Efficient and High-Performance 5G Open RAN, and includes Vodafone alongside AWTG, Lime Microsystems, Commscope and Viavi. Flex-5G wants to create scaleable and modular 5G SA system, with software radio, using general purpose processors.
CoMP-O-RAN is a £4.7 million project based at the Millbrook Proving Ground, already the site of a Tests and Trials programme. Many of the partners in the trial, DenseAir, Airspan, Blu Wireless and Radisys, will look at a Coordinated Multipoint O-RAN – a dense deployment of small cells.
Another larger project in terms of funding is Best of British RAN Development, which received £3.3 million. Partners here are Telet Research, cellXica and AccelerComm, who will be testing applications for Shared and Local Access Spectrum within a number of existing test and trial locations in Liverpool, the Chalke Valley and other suburban and rural test beds that were established in earlier 5G RCC and Create projects.
Microsoft, Intel and Capgemini are all looking at the development of AI/ML-based analytics to lower the cost of operations. Their project, Towards AI Powered and Secure Carrier-Grade Open RAN Platform, will look to develop a “carrier grade cloud solution” for the deployment of RAN network functions. (£1.9 million)
OranGaN will look to develop a UK supply chain, manufacturing processes, and packaging solutions, for radio frequency gallium nitride (RF-GaN) devices. There are no UK manufactured GaN devices suitable for 5G applications, and this project hopes to change that by delivering a new PDK, UK based manufacturing processes, facilities and device designs. Inex Microtechnology, Custom Interconnect, Viper RF and Compound Semiconductor Applications are all involved in the £2.4 million project.