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.
Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman said:
“The seamless connectivity and blistering speeds of 5G and then 6G will power a tech revolution which will enrich people’s lives and fire up productivity across the economy.
“It’s why we’re investing millions and partnering with international allies to unleash innovation and develop new ways to make these networks more secure, resilient and less reliant on a handful of suppliers.”
Chief Executive at Mobile UK Hamish MacLeod said:
"Mobile UK welcomes today's announcement. A strong, diverse mobile ecosystem in the UK will be a cornerstone of the country's future prosperity and well-being. The measures announced today offer further opportunities to build on the UK's thriving R&D into advanced telecoms, and enabling operators to access more diversity in the supply chain while enhancing security and innovation".
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. The challenge will encourage researchers to develop future telecoms solutions that put openness at their heart, enabling us to draw on a more diverse range of vendors for our telecoms infrastructure for 5G and beyond. The competition will emphasise the importance of sustaining openness and interoperability as fundamental concepts of next-generation telecoms technology and products, and will aim to make the UK an even more attractive place to invest in telecommunications R&D.
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 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.
Consortia applying for the Future Open Networks Research Challenge should be led by universities with participation of at least one large vendor, and can also include mobile network operators and other industrial partners. Proposals must be submitted by 03 October 2022, but consortia can submit an optional expression of interest (EOI) until 12 August 2022 to receive feedback from DCMS on their proposed research ideas. Application guidance is available on gov.uk.
“Early-stage” refers specifically to the “Technology Readiness Levels” (TRLs) which we aim to fund. For FONRC it will be in the range 1-6, with 1 being the lowest level and corresponds to merely observing “basic research principles”, well prior to even a product concept. This is the earliest stage of R&D which we are directly funding in the programme, and the earliest stage possible. No other intervention is funding such low stage R&D, with the majority starting at TRL 4. This approach is being taken as early stage research on future networks and 6G is being conducted by industry and academia now, and we aim to support open networks gaining a foothold in that activity from the get-go. A high ceiling of TRL 6 (where a product can be demonstrated as functioning) is being adopted so that we can rapidly accelerate early stage research to closer commercial readiness by the end of the funding period.
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