Universities and telecoms firms have been invited to apply for up to £25 million to research and develop the next generation of 5G and 6G network equipment as part of a new government plan to unleash innovation in the sector.
The Future Open Networks Research Challenge will enable academics and the industry to conduct early-stage research into open and interoperable telecoms solutions, such as Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN), for use in 5G and future networks such as 6G.
The government is accelerating the development of this technology – which allows operators to mix and match equipment rather than relying on a single supplier when building or maintaining networks – as part of its £250 million Open Networks R&D Fund. It aims to build more secure and resilient broadband and mobile infrastructure by boosting competition and innovation within the telecoms supply chain.
It comes as £10 million has been awarded to launch the UK Telecoms Innovation Network (UKTIN), a new body dedicated to boosting creativity in the country’s telecoms supply chain.
The UKTIN will act as an information and ideas hub for industry and academics looking to access funding or R&D testing facilities and opportunities to collaborate on developing new mobile and broadband technology. Digital Catapult, CW (Cambridge Wireless), University of Bristol, and West Midlands 5G are announced today as the winners of the competition to set up and oversee the network.
In a further boost to the industry, the UK will also invest £1.6 million in a joint-funded £3.6 million competition with the Republic of Korea to collaborate on a world-first R&D project to accelerate the development of Open RAN technology.
Each country will fund a group of several companies to work together to accelerate the development of technical solutions to improve power efficiency in Open RAN networks. Power consumption is a major operating cost, so the work will support wider adoption of Open RAN technologies, reduce operating costs and support net zero ambitions.
This scheme will fund several consortia of universities and suppliers to conduct early-stage research and development of telecom solutions sustaining openness and interoperability for 5G and future networks such as 6G.
These early-stage projects will draw on the UK’s impressive depth of research, development, and industrial capability to ensure that open and interoperable telecoms solutions become commercially viable and suitable for inclusion in future telecoms standards.
£25 million will boost the skills of the next generation to enter the workforce, enhance educational capabilities, and bring expertise to a broader range of universities and businesses that will support the UK to grow presence and influence within the global supply chain.
The UK, first announced in March, aims to make the UK the easiest place in the world to access and take part in telecoms R&D. It will guide businesses and researchers looking to access funding or testing facilities in the UK and enable the best use of public and private investment in R&D, as well as ensuring that knowledge is effectively and efficiently shared across the telecoms industry.
UK is expected to be up and running in September, at which point it will begin to take over from UK5G to help organizations get the most out of what the UK has to offer.