Universities and telecoms companies have been invited to apply for up to £25m (€29.5m) to research and develop the next generation of 5G and 6G network devices as part of the UK Government’s new plans to unleash innovation in the sector .
The Future Open Networks Research Challenge will enable scientists and industry to conduct early-stage research on open and interoperable telecommunications solutions such as Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) for deployment in 5G and future networks such as 6G.
The Government is accelerating the development of this technology – which allows operators to mix and match devices rather than relying on a single vendor to build or maintain networks – as part of its £250m Open Networks R&D Fund . It aims to build a safer and more resilient broadband and mobile infrastructure by fostering competition and innovation within the telecom supply chain.
£10m has been awarded to set up the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), a new body dedicated to fostering creativity in the country’s telecoms supply chain.
The UKTIN will act as an information and ideas hub for industry and academics seeking access to funding or R&D test facilities and opportunities to collaborate on the development of new mobile and broadband technologies. Digital Catapult, CW (Cambridge Wireless), University of Bristol and West Midlands 5G are announced as winners of the network deployment and monitoring competition.
To further boost the industry, the UK will also invest £1.6m in a £3.6m co-funded competition with the Republic of Korea to work on a world-first R&D project to accelerate the development of open RAN technology to work together.
Each country will fund a multi-company group working together to accelerate the development of technical solutions to improve energy efficiency in open RAN networks. Power consumption is a key operational cost driver, so the work will support wider adoption of Open RAN technologies that reduce operational costs and support net-zero ambitions.
“The seamless connectivity and blazing speeds of 5G and then 6G will power a technological revolution that will enrich people’s lives and boost productivity across the economy,” said Secretary of State for Digital Infrastructure Matt Warman. “That’s why we’re investing millions and working with international allies to unlock innovation and develop new ways to make these networks more secure, resilient and less dependent on a handful of vendors.”
“Mobile UK welcomes today’s announcement,” added Mobile UK Chief Executive Hamish MacLeod. “A strong, diverse mobile ecosystem in the UK will be a cornerstone for the country’s future prosperity and well-being. The measures announced today provide further opportunities to build on the UK’s thriving research and development in advanced telecoms and allow operators to access greater diversity in the supply chain while enhancing safety and innovation.”
The Future Open Networks Research Challenge will fund multiple university and vendor consortia to conduct early stage research and development of telecom solutions that maintain openness and interoperability for 5G and future networks like 6G.
These early-stage projects will draw on the UK’s research, development and industry capabilities to ensure open and interoperable telecoms solutions are commercially viable and suitable for inclusion in future telecoms standards.
£25 million will strengthen the next generation’s skills to enter the workforce, improve educational capacity and bring expertise to a wider range of universities and companies that will help the UK grow its presence and influence in the global supply chain .
First announced in March, the UKTIN aims to make the UK the easiest place in the world to access and participate in telecoms research and development. It will guide companies and researchers seeking access to funding or testing facilities in the UK and enable the best use of public and private investment in research and development and ensure knowledge is shared effectively and efficiently across the telecoms industry.
UKTIN is expected to be operational in September 2022, replacing UK5G from that point to help organizations get the most of what the UK has to offer.
Speaking on behalf of the winning UKTIN consortium, Jeremy Silver, CEO of Digital Catapult said: “With the UK Telecoms Innovation Network we have an exciting opportunity to transform UK telecoms into a growing, resilient, secure and globally relevant sector. The UK has many strengths, but our ecosystem of research, development and innovation is fragmented. I am proud to be joined by a strong consortium of partners (Digital Catapult, Cambridge Wireless, University of Bristol and WM5G), each bringing their own expertise and experience that has proven crucial to bringing together and expanding our ecosystem and the fostering future British capabilities.”
The UK-Republic of Korea Competition is open to applications from consortia of two or more members from relevant industry, academia or public sector organisations, with funding available for activities taking place in the UK.
Bids must be submitted by noon on September 20, 2022.