5G industry news

FRANC: Everything you need to know

  • 4 minute read
  • Published by Crispin Moller on 25 Jan 2022
  • Last modified 4 Feb 2022
The DCMS initiative is awarding funding to tech and telecoms innovators to accelerate the development and deployment of viable Open RAN products for the UK’s public and private 5G mobile networks. UK5G speaks to Tony Sceales, 5G Programme Development Lead at DCMS.
Tony Scales Headshot
Tony Sceales, 5G Programme Development Lead at DCMS
  1. What is the objective of FRANC?

FRANC is an acronym for “Future Radio Access Network Competition”. The objective is to find potential new suppliers or existing suppliers doing new things. We plan to broaden the base of the supply chain for radios: the radio access network or RAN is arguably the largest investment that mobile operators make in the public networks, connecting phones and devices to networks.

The telecommunications security review and the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy were the policy drivers for this project. The leadership group, which was formed as a result of the supply chain review, recommended focusing on encouraging better investment in the radio access network and how we can broaden the supply chain. DCMS believes it's important to move towards a more open and interoperable approach, as well as architecture: this is about reducing risk on the UK supply chain and assisting commercial price negotiation. 

2. What will the projects be exploring?

This is a technical competition, searching for complex engineering solutions—and there are a number of major themes. 

The first is to work towards the new Open RAN architectures, which disaggregates the monolithic approach to delivering the radio access network. In effect, a single manufacturers name would typically be on the box but now that is broken down into a number of different components that make up the architecture. The 5G antenna, for example, is split away from its control and distribution units; this allows it to be supplied by different types of suppliers throughout the process. There’s a lot more flexibility.

A second theme is testing. When the operators were dealing with a very small number of large suppliers, they were able to rely on their suppliers’ methodology to make sure that all of the components worked together. Testing, however, becomes a greater challenge when introducing multiple suppliers. It is therefore important that testing modules are available—a number of bidders have provided smart technology to help with this. 

With net zero, the energy consumption of the kit is crucial. How do we use less energy per bit? Artificial intelligence and machine learning are equally significant. As networks become more complicated and disaggregated, the ability to tune and configure begins to move beyond what a human can individually do. In addition, a number of projects are bringing in quantum computing security. 

Projects applying to this competition are also expected to address one or more of the priority objectives for development: accelerate the development of 5G Open RAN solutions that meet UK dense urban requirements by 2025; attract new 5G RAN suppliers to conduct R&D in the UK and foster professional collaborations between potential new entrants into the UK’s public network; and contribute to the delivery of the 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy's objectives of disaggregated supply chains, open interfaces by default, and security being a priority in network deployment.

Achieving these objectives will catalyse the development of Open RAN solutions relevant to the UK market, with a view to accelerating the diversification of the UK’s 5G supply chain by making interoperable technologies a viable alternative to traditional deployments.

3. Are there any particular projects that you are excited about?

All of them! I am so pleased that these projects build on the work of the 5GTT programme. FRANC signals an evolution of that work and there is a great mix of familiar and new faces, including three of four UK MNOs and some major international players such as Intel, Toshiba and Microsoft. We’ve also got operators from the Middle East. It is a very broad group of businesses and organisations.

4. What will the projects’ innovations mean for the UK ecosystem?

That’s the $64 million dollar question, isn’t it? When you spend around £36 million of taxpayers money (which is being matched by the participating companies), the likelihood of us finding new exciting technology, products and services is very strong. These products will not only contribute to the UK infrastructure​​—that we all depend on—but also global architecture, too. A secure, reliable and rich supply chain is critical for success. We need a productive and competitive ecosystem.