FRANC takes a broad definition of Open RAN. It embraces the whole of the network, not just the radio component, and will fund projects that provide alternatives to proprietary interfaces to allow components from multiple suppliers to work together. Projects do not have to conform to formal Open RAN definitions. Many companies will welcome this, as they think the need to comply with the standards is an overhead that slows deployment.
The programme is looking for applications from both businesses and academic institutions to grow the supply chain and to develop more key intellectual property in Britain. The diversification strategy identified R&D as a barrier to entry for new suppliers. The FRANC will encourage more private-sector innovation to accelerate 5G deployment in the UK and boost export sales.
The competition is part of a wide-ranging government response to the challenge of diversifying the UK’s supply market for telecommunications technology. It spans a range of areas, including: the development of physical hardware; software/virtualised solutions; testing with live networks; and accelerating and pulling forward the development of interoperable technologies.
The government is already making investments to bolster this ecosystem in the form of the SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre, or SONIC, and the UK Telecoms Lab. FRANC will complement those initiatives by providing support to companies that are developing technology rather than testbed infrastructure. Consortia are encouraged to make use of existing testbeds and other facilities funded by 5G Testbeds and Trials, as well as private-sector laboratories and testbed infrastructure.