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What you should know about the highly-awaited SONIC Labs

  • 5 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 25 Jun 2021
  • Last modified 29 Jun 2021
The UK's SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre launched yesterday

The SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC Labs) has launched as a part of DCMS’ 5G Diversification Strategy. A joint programme between Digital Catapult and Ofcom, SONIC Labs will foster the emergence of new solutions in the telecom supply chain in the UK, focusing on multi-vendor open, disaggregated and software-centric network products, solutions and services, starting with Open RAN. 

SONIC Labs represents:

  • A place for collaborative, peer-assist, integration and interoperability testing of products and solutions at a pre-commercial development stage, addressing the challenges of multi-vendor end to end solutions
  • A programme focusing on helping vendors accelerate technology development and early-stage integration work, with targeted innovation and acceleration activities
  • A technical platform, a commercially neutral, supported multi-tenancy open network testbed providing real-world indoor and outdoor scale environments, including test and measurement capabilities

It has three main objectives:

  • Examine the reality of Open RAN and successive relevant open network technologies to facilitate interoperability in mobile networks, identifying and sharing the issues, opportunities and best practice
  • Enable and encourage innovative vendors to participate in the UK ecosystem and facilitate a more rapid path towards deployment in UK networks, providing a pipeline of products to operators
  • Evaluate critical and longer-term advanced open and interoperable technologies, in mobile, fixed and media networks, encouraging growth and investment in the telecom sector in the UK

By leveraging the existing 5G testbed infrastructure as well as the existing innovation and ecosystem, it has been able to quickly make progress, currently operating in three UK locations. The first integrations between products from Mavenir, Radisys, Accelleran, Benetel, Phluido, Druid, Effnet, and Foxconn have been completed. It will develop into a long term platform, evolving to inform the broader national telecoms capability and other large scale pilots.

Speaking at the launch, Simon Saunders, Director of Emerging and Online Technology, Ofcom, said: “SONIC Labs presents an opportunity to scrutinise products and ensure that networks perform reliably, particularly in terms of security, which is really important to the UK. It strengthens the commercial health of the market and makes sure that we are benefitting from increasingly innovative services.” 

Joe Butler, CTO at Digital Catapult, said: “This is only the beginning but we’re doing a lot, and we’re doing it quickly. We’re very focused on the future. SONIC Labs has been built to operate across multiple graphic sites, and we’re already planning on deploying more use-cases, both indoor and outdoor, in public settings. The hope is to bring together different ecosystems through the supply chain to facilitate a vibrant market and swap elements across several sites, including infrastructure and setup. It’s really important, though, that we’re both sensible and efficient. We’ll be hosting more events soon to keep everybody updated.”

Louise Sheridan, Head of Operations and International in the Diversification Unit, said: “The centre will be crucial for helping drive the UK’s 5G diversification agenda. Our reliance on digital technology has shown that 5G will bring huge benefits over the last year, but it also brings risks, which is exactly why we need a strategic plan. We don’t want to ever again be dependent on a small chain of suppliers. The government’s £250 million strategy presents a great opportunity to create a thriving telecommunications industry but we can’t be complacent, we need to ensure that policy turns into deployment—only this way will the UK become a cyber and technology superpower.”

Dritan Kaleshi, Director of 5G Technology, Digital Catapult, added: “Instrumentation and automation of testbeds is a key capability which is so often missed. We intend to bring an automation framework to manage the lab infrastructure and testing across the sites. It's the real world, it’s real things actually happening and we intend for this to be carried out as efficiently as possible.”

What is SONIC Labs doing differently?

Stefano Cantarelli, Chief Marketing Officer, Mavenir said: “It brings openness and innovation. This doesn’t happen without competition. The team at SONIC Labs are also brilliant to work with; they have admirable expertise, and always deliver even amid pressing time restraints. What really makes them unique, though, is this focus on operationality. The traditional approach usually fails on this but SONIC Labs offers elements that we haven’t seen before, which adds huge value.”

Natasha Tamaskar, VP Business Strategy and Global Marketing, Radisys, said: “A big difference is the labs’ distributed solution that genuinely mimics real-world scenarios. This means that they’re uncovering and then fixing problems early on, such as data and operational issues, and this is really important when you’re starting to grow an ecosystem.”

Arnaud Polster, VP Sales, Acceleran, said: “Disseminating knowledge. SONIC Labs is not just for mobile operators but is providing benefits to enterprises, too. We really need this transfer of knowledge to bring 5G technology to wider operators and should greatly gain from this diversification of supplies.”

What’s next for SONIC Labs?

Federico Roccardi, Emerging Technology Programme Director, said: “SONIC Labs has been built to share its learning with others, so that’s exactly what we’re planning to do. We are complementary to other labs and want to target different types of audiences, including small operators.”

He added: “In the long-term, we’re excited to leverage the SONIC platform to trial new technologies, looking at openness beyond RAN in the fixed sector. For example, cloudification and delivering new services in a range of environments, which will benefit citizens right across the country.” 

Paul Ceely, Director of Technology, Strategy, Digital Catapult, said: “We have been focusing on getting a sector of product vendors and bringing them together. The next step will involve mixing them up and looking towards the succeeding set of products. This will include looking for new technologies beyond Open RAN. Thank you to everybody who's brought this together. It’s a very exciting time.”

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