Government delivers £36m O-RAN funding
Written by: Richard Hook | Published:
Masts in rural area of Scotland The 5G DU-Volution project supported by the Scotland 5G Centre is one of the O-RAN innovation projects that have received funding (credit: S5GC)

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) has announced the 14 projects which will receive funding from the Future RAN Competition (FRANC).

The funding forms part of the government’s 5G Diversification Strategy which aims to “reduce over-reliance on a small number of telecoms vendors” and has seen DCMS support a UK-wide range of R&D projects focused on Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) technology.

Technology solutions being developed by telecoms giants BT, Microsoft, Virgin Media 02, Vodafone alongside start-up technologies from AccelerComm, Dense Air and AceAxis have all received funding to support emerging 5G RAN infrastructure products.

One of the broadest collaborations, the 5G DU-Volution project will “address the key aims of the FRANC programme by promoting the integration of RAN suppliers’ products at all levels of the architecture” into one of the most challenging RAN components, the distribution unit (DU). Partners AccelerComm, ADVA and CommAgility will work together to develop a new O-RAN-enabled DU that will be tested at BT’s Adastral Park facility and distributed by the University of York and the Scotland 5G Centre (S5GC).

Paul Coffey, S5GC CEO said: “This is a great opportunity for collaboration – we are delighted to have been awarded this funding, alongside our partners in the 5G DU-Volution consortium. Through this project, the collaborators will accelerate the understanding of interworking between components, enabling innovation through the selection of component vendors to meet specific market requirements.”

Another wide-reaching collaboration project, named Coordinated Multipoint Open Radio Access Network (CoMP-O-RAN), will “revolutionise the performance and cost of densified 5G NR outdoor small cell networks aimed at delivering pervasive 5G coverage across the UK” according to lead developer Dense Air.

In partnership with Airspan Communications, Blu Wireless, Radisys UK and the University of Glasgow, the consortium led by Dense Air will develop a deployable 5G NR O-RAN Distributed Multiple Input Multiple Output (MIMO) that provides a densification solution that can enable both public and private network operators to extend 5G coverage and capacity to areas that are currently under-served.

Digital infrastructure minister Julia Lopez said: "Our mobile networks play an increasingly crucial part in our lives and businesses, which is why we're investing 36 million in cutting-edge projects to ensure our networks are safe and secure for decades to come. I'm pleased to see such an outstanding range of innovators are now on board with FRANC as we push ahead to build a more competitive and resilient telecoms supply chain."

Other projects awarded funding are as follows:
  • Proteus (Parallel Wireless, BT, University of Bristol, Wireless Excellence, Real Wireless) is developing an Open RAN solution architecture that abstracts from the underlying hardware platform
  • AceAxis in partnership with MAC have created plans to develop a Future RAN Radio Test system for use by 3rd party radio development vendors designing, building and testing 5G Future RAN radios
  • Towards AI Powered and Secure Carrier-Grade Open RAN Platform (Microsoft, Intel, Capgemini, University of Edinburgh) 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 for new entrants
  • The Best of British RAN Development project (AccelerComm, Telet, CellXica) will deliver a new 5G radio unit, using intellectual property from AccelerComm to evolve CellXica’s current product to support 4x4 MIMO 5G aimed at serving private, local government and industrial owned networks which operate within UK Shared and Local Access Spectrum
  • Scalable Optical Fronthaul for 5G OpenRAN (Rushmere Technology, Teropta, BT, Compound Semiconductor Centre, Aston University) will develop UK-made, scalable, optical interface technology to enable dense roll out of optical fibre 5G RANs with open digital interfaces for interoperability and low latency
  • ORanGaN (Inex Microtechnology, Custom Interconnect, Viper RF, Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult) will look to develop a sovereign UK supply chain, manufacturing processes, and packaging solutions, for radio frequency gallium nitride (RF-GaN) devices
  • ECORAN (University of Leeds, Ultracell Networks) the Energy-efficient Cloudlets for ORAN project 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)
  • O-RANOS (Cellnex Connectivity Solutions, University of Bristol, ATTOCORE, Weaver Labs, Satellite Applications Catapult, Parallel Wireless) will implement novel backhauling and neutral hosting services with a particular focus on satellite backhaul (mainly GEO and LEO constellations) for connecting to different core vendors
  • BEACON-5G (Toshiba, Thales, Attocore, Coventry University, South Gloucestershire Council) will develop a product-grade 5G system operating in real-world environments and versatile use-cases, with a particular focus on interoperability and cyber security
  • Flex-5G (AWTG, Lime Microsystems, University of Surrey, Vodafone, Commscope Solutions, Viavi, Emirates ICT Innovation Center, O2, Cambridgeshire County Council, AWS, Zain Saudi Arabia) the Flexible, Efficient and High-Performance 5G Open RAN is a complete 5G SA network similar in physical appearance to a large computer that can be installed in factories or offices
  • ARI-5G (Telecom Infra Project, Accelleran, Amdocs, AttoCore, BT, Viavi, WestMids 5G) Accelerating RAN Intelligence in 5G will accelerate the testing of Telecom Infra Projects RAN Intelligence & Automation’s (TIP-RIA) use cases for vendor interoperability across the E2 interface of the O-RAN specifications
  • 5G Drive (Virgin Media O2, wavemobile, Cisco, Ori Industries, University of Warwick) aims to develop a 5G Open & Diversified RAN Integration solution for private mobile networks, that is low cost, secure, and capable of integrating with public networks
  • Secure 5G Platform using Novel, Efficient Wideband PA (Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, Lime Microsystems, Slipstream Engineering Design, Arqit) will develop a novel modular platform able to output powers of up to 10W (initially) using a new Software Defined Radio (SDR) chip able to operate up to 10GHz coupled with a very efficient, wideband power amplifier.

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