Having set its stall out on the topic of diversification, the UK Government continues to support the development of a vision towards Open Networks – now not only Open RAN but also a broader scope as R&D in the UK looks forward to new architectures across a broader telecom’s networks scope. All of this comes under the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) Future Networks Programme.
This Ministerial announcement event in London was the opportunity for DSIT funded Future RAN Competition FRANC projects coming to a close to reflect on their achievements and new Open Networks Ecosystem ONE Competition projects to start setting their visions. Real Wireless is delighted to have supported winning bids in the new ONE Competiton projects – more of which in the future as the projects get underway.
It’s a good time for the Team at Real Wireless (there were four of us at the event) to take a step back from the interesting R&D and think about the implications for our clients. A couple of years ago our Head of Techno-Economics Analysis, Julie Bradford, explored the issues around adoption of 5G in what we call the wireless user segment. Enterprises in the wireless user segment are not industry insiders with a deep R&D enabled understanding of the technologies – they just want a solution that works for their enterprise business needs.
The industry press on Open RAN and even on 5G in general regarding sales figures of vendors (large and small) is not encouraging. Open RAN was always going to be a post first wave of 5G option. We are yet to see a breadth of Open RAN equipment in the market, at the right price points to get the attention of the mobile operators. However, the Real Wireless team continues our deep collaborations with vendor engineering teams to understand the strengths and weaknesses of the approaches that are being developed.
Julie chaired a session at the Ministerial event and provides some reflections on the event as a whole as well as on her discussions with the panel she was chairing.
My main takeaway was “no pain no gain”. With Open RAN and the diversification of mobile network infrastructure there are lots of very difficult challenges, like interoperability, system integration, fault ownership and much more to overcome. We can’t expect Open RAN equipment to immediately perform as well as incumbent, highly integrated, traditional mobile infrastructure and I’m not sure we can expect the outcomes of the DSIT ONE projects to match today’s commercial networks. However, a good question was asked during the one of the morning session regarding what the end target of the transition to more open networks and the related DSIT investment in this area is.
Improved interoperability and availability of Open RAN equipment itself is not a good enough end goal. It is the changes in infrastructure deployment models, and related cost savings and improved resilience, that Open RAN enables that really seems to be the end goal. These new shared infrastructure models were represented with neutral host organisations (Freshwave, Telet, Dense Air, Ontix, Boldyn) appearing in force across the winning ONE Competition projects. However, migrating towards these increasingly shared infrastructure models with multiple vendors and open interfaces is expensive and complexi –as a result there will need to be some investment and pain to get to the end gain.
This investment and pain aren’t something that MNOs in the UK are in a position to shoulder alone and hence it was fantastic to also see MNOs amongst the partners in many of the winning projects and making use of the available funding by the UK government. DSIT is also keen for the Future Networks programme to have a solid feedback loop with industry to advance and inform policy decisions, many of which will have a long-term impact on mobile networks and the associated eco system.
The session I chaired acknowledged that while we have got to keep working on the technology readiness of Open RAN equipment, the equipment is now getting to a stage where we need to start working on the commercial readiness of Open RAN deployment models too. Liz St Louis from Sunderland City Council acknowledged that her winning project at the Stadium of Light would not have been going ahead without the DSIT funding.
Likewise, Paul Senior from Dense Air described the shared network project BEACH that they have planned for seafront locations to cope with the seasonal high demand from visitors. The temporary nature of demand for the network makes traditional non shared infrastructure not commercially viable in these locations but ideally the infrastructure rolled out in BEACH will have a lifetime beyond the 18-month project timeline and will act as a commercial proof of concept for similar deployments going forwards.
The details of the ONE Competition successful applications can be found here: Open Networks Ecosystem competition: successful projects – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)