R&D boost for innovative connectivity to future proof UK mobile network

14 September 2023

AMRC North West and a consortium of expert partners has been awarded more than £2 million to develop, test and showcase flexible Open RAN deployment options for the manufacturing sector. 

An £88 million investment of UK Government R&D funding has been given to 19 projects across the UK, will see trials of new mobile tech designed to increase the resilience of the UK mobile network and ensure the country is not overly reliant on any one form of technology.

The FoFoRAN project, led by AMRC North West, part of the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) innovation cluster, will work with key partners including Dassault Systèmes, aql, Productive Machines and Safenetics. 

Professor Rab Scott, director of industrial digitalisation for the University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), said: “We are proud to lead a consortium which comprises manufacturers, tech providers and telecom suppliers - flying the 5G flag for manufacturing and the northern region.

“The FoFoRAN project builds on the successful 5G Factory of the Future test bed and trials programme, showcasing how Open RAN-based telecom infrastructure can enhance productivity and efficiency in manufacturing. This advancement may lead to carbon reduction and faster market access, benefiting smaller players in telecom and manufacturing tech.”

John Kitchingman, Senior VP of Global Customer Engagement at Dassault Systèmes, expressed his enthusiasm for aiding manufacturers in harnessing data’s power through virtual manufacturing experiences.

 “We are looking forward to seeing how this technology will be applied to factories of the future and the subsequent benefits for customers within the UK,” he said. “We truly believe this project will ensure our manufacturing sector can maintain its competitive edge and forge a resilient, robust, and formidable future.”

The 19 successful projects in the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) Competition will demonstrate the reliability and feasibility of Open Radio Access Network (RAN) technologies and showcase their role in delivering resilient and future-proofed connectivity to UK citizens and businesses.

The ONE competition helps deliver on the UK’s ambition to be a global leader in telecoms research and development, through investment in cutting-edge open hardware and software. The funding will enable the successful projects to develop and demonstrate a range of innovative technological solutions to improve connectivity in places with some of the biggest demand on mobile services. This includes busy locations like cities, airports, stadiums, or large venues where many people use their devices simultaneously, posing a challenge for mobile networks to handle high levels of traffic.

The ONE competition was designed to demonstrate how this new way of building mobile networks can deliver fast, dependable connectivity in busy places where many people need wireless connections. Instead of using only one company’s equipment, Open RAN enables different companies’ technology to work together, which can make the network better and more flexible.

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure Sir John Whittingdale said: “Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business.

“In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network.

“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.”

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

In a further boost to telecoms supply chain resilience and diversification, major mobile network operators BT/EE, Three UK, Virgin Media O2, and Vodafone to endorse the UK’s Open RAN Principles.

The Memorandum of Understanding reaffirms the ambition for 35% 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, said: “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.”

Nick Johnson, Head of UKTIN, added: “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, 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.”

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