Guidance

Future RAN: Diversifying the 5G Supply Chain Competition Winners

This page includes summaries of the winning bids for the Future RAN (FRANC) competition

Proteus

  • Funding: £3,718,751
  • Location: Bristol, Ipswich
  • Partners: Parallel Wireless UK Limited, British Telecommunications PLC, University of Bristol, Wireless Excellence Limited, Real Wireless Limited.

The “speed of innovation” for emerging 5G RAN infrastructure products from Tier 2/3 Open RAN equipment manufacturers is hampered by their ability to adopt the always changing latest and greatest silicon innovations for the critical base station processing. Not only does this delay continue to create a disadvantage relative to Tier 1 providers but it also makes it more difficult to innovate building Tier 1 capabilities into Open RAN.

Project Proteus is developing an Open RAN solution architecture that abstracts from the underlying hardware platform. Parallel Wireless, will deliver market leading capability to develop intelligent applications that break the dependency with the underlying CPU architecture, whilst ensuring radio system performance. Techniques that have delivered success in cloud and server-based industries in media and video processing applications are being evaluated to improve the prospects of open solutions. 

These technology and product platform innovations alongside agile approaches to system integration will enable Open RAN solutions that can use a variety of general-purpose CPUs – enabling the harnessing of inherent processor architecture benefits for cost, power, security, and performance benefits. By pioneering and promoting the Proteus outcomes, UK suppliers, attracted by the emerging global supply chain opportunities based on open standards, will have more freedom in their choice of hardware platforms, whilst increasing the security of supply. 

Future RAN Radio Test System

  • Funding: £365,641
  • Location: Swindon, Southampton
  • Partners: AceAxis Limited, MAC Limited

AceAxis in partnership with MAC Limited propose to develop a Future RAN Radio Test system, for use by 3rd party radio development vendors designing, building and testing 5G Future RAN radios.

Radio test systems have historically required customized, “home-brewed” test setups that are difficult to support. As much time and cost can be spent debugging the test setup as is spent designing the radio. This creates a significant barrier to entry for radio developers, as the development team not only requires radio expertise but also requires digital skills to develop baseband emulators.

Future RAN interfaces are clearly defined. Using these interfaces, along with 3GPP definitions provides the opportunity for this Future RAN Radio Test system to become the trusted industry standard for developing 5G radios. By allowing radio developers to focus on their areas of expertise, the Future RAN Radio Test system will reduce barriers to entry and encourage 5G radio supply chain diversification.

The Future RAN Radio Test system will provide a standardised, cost-effective, off-the-shelf solution that covers many of the key RF measurements along with the Future RAN optical interface, all in a single unit.

A standardised solution will encourage new entrants to focus on innovation of the radio and antenna, whilst supporting fast development and integration of radios. It will therefore accelerate the adoption of Future RAN, further supporting supply chain diversification.

Towards AI Powered and Secure Carrier-Grade Open RAN Platform

  • Funding: £1,928,756
  • Location: Cambridge, Manchester, Bath, Edinburgh
  • Partners: Microsoft UK, Intel R&D UK Ltd., Capgemini, The University of Edinburgh

Advances in cloud technology for the edge can enable next-generation telecoms networks that will not only improve connectivity but also create significant economic opportunities by enabling new UK innovations. Cloud technologies provide the tools necessary to manage highly secure virtualized and disaggregated networks at scale. Furthermore, the AI/ML compute capabilities inherent in the cloud will be instrumental in optimising performance, improved management, and detecting anomalies across various disaggregated RAN components. Cloud technology also accelerates security innovation and will be proven through industry adoption of best practices and capabilities for security.

The combination of Open RAN and edge computing brings an opportunity to create customised interactions between the RAN and applications through slicing and beyond, enabling new 5G applications and services, such as AR/VR, manufacturing, and gaming. The extensive developer ecosystem can also leverage cloud APIs to reap the benefits of programmable networks promised by the Open RAN architecture.

This project aims to realise a carrier-grade cloud solution, enabling operators to deploy Open RAN network functions easily and securely, with a focus on lowering the barrier to entry for new entrants. This will be achieved through the development of AI/ML-based analytics to lower the cost of operations and further enable operators to benefit from programmable networks.

Best of British RAN Development

  • Funding: £4,957,149
  • Location: London, Southampton, Cambridge, Liverpool, Wiltshire
  • Partners: Telet Research (N.I.) Limited, cellXica Limited, AccelerComm Limited

The Best of British RAN Development project (BoB) will demonstrate a commercial and technically viable Radio Access Network architecture designed, developed and manufactured in the UK.

It is aimed at serving private, local government and industrial owned networks which operate within UK Shared and Local Access Spectrum through the development of an innovative small cell within a disaggregated Open RAN network.

This project will support a range of different application layers, including public network applications and Multi Operator Neutral Host services alongside secure private network services.

The project will deploy around 150 units of the new radio, to deliver a range of 5G services within a number of its existing test and trial locations in Liverpool, the Chalke Valley and other suburban and rural test beds that were established in earlier 5G RCC and Create projects as well as sites with commercially delivered backhaul which seek improved mobile connectivity.

Scalable Optical Fronthaul for 5G OpenRAN

  • Funding: £1,526,886
  • Location: Cardiff, Ipswich, Nottingham and Birmingham
  • Partners: Rushmere Technology Limited, Teropta Limited, British Telecommunications plc, Compound Semiconductor Centre, Aston University

5G networks critically rely on optical fibre links to connect the radio antennae to the electronic processing basestation equipment. This project will develop ground-breaking, UK-made, scalable, cost-effective optical interface technology to enable dense roll out of optical fibre 5G radio access networks (RANs) with open digital interfaces for interoperability and low latency.

UK 5G DU-Volution

  • Funding: £4,659,606
  • Location: Glasgow, Leicestershire, York, Ipswich, Southampton
  • Partners: ADVA Optical Networking Ltd, AccelerComm Ltd, British Telecommunications Plc, CommAgility Ltd, University of York, Scotland5GCentre

5G DU-Volution is a project that addresses the key aims of the “Future Radio Access Network: Diversifying the 5G Supply Chain” programme by promoting the integration of growing RAN suppliers at all levels of the architecture, in both software and hardware, of one of the most challenging RAN components.

O-RAN splits the existing equipment into multiple components. One of the most challenging components, in terms of the hardware and software complexity and required performance, is the ‘Distributed Unit’ or DU. This is the device that undertakes much of the signal processing in converting radio signals to traffic that can be transported by the optical and wireline networks to the core network infrastructure.

Our 5G DU-Volution project will evolve DU devices to meet industry requirements including reduced power, smaller form factors, improved spectrum efficiency and reduced latency. We will work with principally UK based vendors, integrating products into an operational DU component ready for deployment in 5G networks.

ORanGaN

  • Funding: £2,435,528
  • Location: Newport, Newcastle, County Durham
  • Partners: Inex Microtechnology Limited, Custom Interconnect Ltd, Viper RF Limited, Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult Limited

The ORanGaN project will look to develop a sovereign UK supply chain, manufacturing processes, and packaging solutions, for radio frequency gallium nitride (RF-GaN) devices which are critical to 5G communications systems electronics hardware.

Almost every piece of 5G Open-RAN hardware requires multiple semiconductor switching devices to generate the RF signals being transmitted. GaN switching devices are used in a wide range of applications from consumer electronics to defence radar systems. GaN has become the technology of choice for 5G communications hardware due to its high frequency operation and high-power density. GaN and other types of semiconductor switching devices are in high demand due to growth in new applications like 5G communications, electric vehicles, energy systems, computing and other applications. This high demand has led to a worldwide shortage of manufacturing and design capacity for semiconductors including GaN devices. There are no UK manufactured GaN devices suitable for 5G applications. All current 5G hardware uses semiconductor devices made offshore. RF-GaN MMIC’s are application specific devices that are designed for the specific use case using a software tool called a Product Development Kit (PDK)

UK manufacturing capability exists at INEX for RF-Gan devices used in Radar systems however working at the higher levels of precision required to operate in the frequency domain required for 5G Open-RAN devices requires smaller feature sizes (0.15µm) and a higher degree of control than for lower frequency radar applications (0.25µm). This project will deliver a new PDK, UK based manufacturing processes, facilities and device designs required by 5G capable 0.15µm GaN raw wafer and packaged devices and improved 0.25µm capability and capacity.

As a result, in addition to delivering a new UK supply chain for 5G capable RF-GaN devices, the project will also have the spin out benefit of improving UK capability for GaN device manufacture for other applications such as radar systems.

Energy-efficient Cloudlets for ORAN (ECORAN)

  • Funding: £492,000
  • Location: Leeds
  • Partners: University of Leeds, Ultracell Networks Ltd

A key feature of ORAN is the use of commodity hardware made up of servers, accelerators, storage and programmable interfaces, together with open software.

The ECORAN project aims to reduce the power consumption of the commodity hardware used by introducing novel ways of interconnecting and managing servers, accelerators, storage and interfaces in small processing cells (cloudlets).

The proposed open and intelligent processing on demand approach can enable a wide range of applications and can reduce the total cost of ownership significantly. For example, demand peaks may be witnessed in stadiums, in shopping centres and in city centres for short durations during a match, during the lunch hours or during an event. Processing on demand enables the correct amount of processing to be orchestrated and provisioned on demand at the correct location at low power consumption and low latency using ORAN.

Accelerating RAN Intelligence in 5G (ARI-5G)

  • Funding: £2,377,686
  • Location: Newbury, Ipswich, London, Cambridge, Birmingham, Stevenage
  • Partners: Telecom Infra Project (TIP), Accelleran, Amdocs, AttoCore, British Telecommunications Plc, VIAVI, West Midlands 5G

Unlike single-vendor solutions, the economic incentive for any vendor to develop an interoperable RAN solution – one that can be readily substituted by a competitor’s product – is challenging. While ultimately such an interoperable ecosystem will benefit the entire industry, there is an initial barrier to be overcome. Public funding thus plays an important role in the early stages to promote interoperable architectures while seeding the necessary technical capabilities in the industry. This project will look to:

  • explore interoperable architectures while seeding the necessary technical capabilities in the industry;
  • accelerate the testing of Telecom Infra Projects RAN Intelligence & Automation’s (TIP-RIA) use cases for vendor interoperability across the E2 interface of the O-RAN specifications;
  • validate the xAPP model for different software solutions on the RIC platform;
  • and promote substantive advances in power management/energy efficiency as well as spectrum management by leveraging technologies such as AI/ML.

5G DRIVE

  • Funding: £1,430,470
  • Location: Slough
  • Partners: Virgin Media O2, wavemobile Ltd, Cisco, Ori Industries, University of Warwick (WMG)

5G technology presents many commercial opportunities for the mobile telecommunications industry, especially in the Manufacturing, Utilities, Construction, Transport, Retail and Critical Infrastructure sectors. Private Networks complemented by Multiple-access Edge computing capabilities that are; cost efficient, secure, scalable & robust will drive this digital transformation and a vital first step to deliver 5G use cases & applications in these sectors.

This consortium aims to develop a 5G Open & Diversified RAN Integration solution for private mobile networks, that is low cost, secure, and capable of integrating with public networks. The consortium will also include a ‘Vendor Evaluation phase’ for private 5G RAN vendors to test their networks against the solution concepts.

Integrating public and private 5G networks at scale, with robust security at affordable prices is a key challenge for every mobile operator, and 5G DRIVE sets out to solve that problem for the industry.

Secure 5G Platform using Novel, Efficient Wideband PA

  • Funding: £1,097,950
  • Location: Newport, Surrey, London, Shipley
  • Partners: Compound Semiconductor Applications Catapult, Lime Microsystems Limited, Slipstream Engineering Design Limited, Arqit Limited

This proposal aims to develop a unique and novel 5G O-RAN platform able to provide better efficiency, higher security and a wide frequency range enabling it to be ready for future 5G bands.

Current software defined radio platforms for O-RAN are typically bespoke solutions able to cover only a narrowband of operation. With the opening up of the spectrum towards 10GHz there is a need to develop systems that are flexible in their frequency range but are able to output the powers needed for a communication platform for dense environments.

In this project, the consortium will develop a novel modular platform able to output powers of up to 10W (initially) using a new Software Defined Radio (SDR) chip able to operate up to 10GHz coupled with a very efficient, wideband power amplifier. As well as developing a more flexible and scalable platform the team will also integrate a new security layer based on Arqit’s QuantumCloud™ platform that will provide security by default in the operation of the system by using stronger, simpler encryption that is unbreakable – even with a quantum computer.

Flexible, Efficient and High-Performance 5G Open RAN (Flex-5G)

  • Funding: £4,681,242
  • Location: London, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Berkshire, plus other locations across the UK
  • Partners: AWTG Limited, Lime Microsystems Limited, University of Surrey, Vodafone Limited, Commscope Solutions UK Limited, Viavi Solutions UK Limited, Emirates ICT Innovation Center (EBTIC) (non-funded); O2 (UK) Limited (non-funded), Cambridgeshire County Council (non-funded), Amazon Web Services (AWS) (non-funded), Zain Saudi Arabia (non-funded)”

This project creates “Flex-5G”, a solution realising a complete 5G SA network that is similar in physical appearance to a large computer and might be installed, for example, in premises such as a factory, office or even your home. It can also scale to use in larger mobile operator 5G network deployments that provide coverage and capacity across wide areas.

The Flex-5G solution is fully Open RAN compliant, able to be broken down into constituent modules distributed across different geographical locations and interworking with modules created by others as necessary. This presents vast flexibility and diversification benefits. The solution is at the cutting-edge of what is known as “software radio”, doing everything—down to the most basic level technically possible—in software using general purpose processors such as are in your PC, workstations, or servers, in conjunction with other programmable elements. The flexibility of this software basis is leveraged in Flex-5G to increase the performance and efficiency of the 5G network, and to improve upgradability, customization to use cases, robustness and security through software patches and configuration options, among many other benefits. Other cutting-edge aspects of 5G are also furthered in Flex-5G, most notably key advances on “Massive MIMO” technology—improving the performance and practicality of high-end 5G network deployments.

Use case deployments and trials demonstrating the capabilities and benefits of Flex-5G will likely take place in Surrey, Cambridgeshire and London among other potential locations across the UK, and at major world industry events.

BEACON-5G

  • Funding: £1,568,562
  • Location: Ebbw Vale, Bristol
  • Partners: Toshiba Europe Ltd. UK, Thales UK Limited, Attocore Ltd, Coventry University, South Gloucestershire Council

This project aims to develop an end-to-end 5G system, aligned with Open RAN framework and principles, with reconfigurability, security, trustworthiness, and service architecture agility. The broader vision is to realise a high-performance 5G system with built-in capabilities of openness, security, and trustworthiness, that can be rapidly reconfigured and optimised for operation in diverse industry-centric and consumer-centric applications in dense urban local/private as well as in public/carrier environments.

The key innovations of the project will be demonstrated via a product-grade 5G system operating in real-world environments and versatile use-cases, with a particular focus on interoperability and cyber security.

CoMP-O-RAN (Coordinated Multipoint Open Radio Access Network)

  * Funding: £4,732,473 * Location: Marlow, Bristol, Glasgow, Slough, London and DCMS Auto Air 5G Testbed at Millbrook Proving Ground, Bedfordshire * Partners: Dense Air Limited, Airspan Communications Limited, Blu Wireless Technology Limited, University of Glasgow, Radisys UK Limited   Coordinated Multipoint Open Radio Access Network (CoMP-O-RAN) will revolutionize the performance and cost of densified 5G New Radio (NR) outdoor small cell clusters.  The integration of standard Open Radio Access Network technology with mmWave transport systems enables the deployment of disaggregated multi-transmission and reception multi-node 5G NR without the need for excessive fibre which drives down capital-intensive deployment costs. 

At the same time, CoMP-O-RAN will provide enhanced radio performance in the form of better coverage and higher capacity. This enables 5G operators to deliver excellent 5G at significantly lower “cost per bit”.   The project will develop a novel 5G NR CoMP algorithm and software implementation plus a new 5G RAN product with an integrated mmWave transport. It covers the full lifecycle from concept design through to prototype hardware and proof-of-concept deployment and validation in preparation for mass commercial manufacture and deployment.   CoMP-O-RAN, as a project, will generate highly skilled UK 5G technology employment, leading to additional manufacturing and supply chain development here in the UK.  Where possible we will look to source in areas of regional inequality, building on the governments levelling up agenda and industry 4.0 strategy to promote digital skills. 

O-RANOS

  • Funding: £1,937,528
  • Location: Bristol
  • Partners: Cellnex Connectivity Solutions ltd, University of Bristol, ATTOCORE, Weaver Labs, Satellite Applications Catapult, Parallel Wireless

O-RANOS main motivation is to address key architectural and technological challenges for deploying end-to-end O-RAN multi-domain (private-public) interoperable network solutions.

This will allow the creation of new business models that can be used for both Enterprise and public sector customers as well as developing new use cases.

The project will add value to the O-RAN Alliance specifications by particularly focusing on the emerging public and private 5G network multi-vendor Open RAN environment and their interworking challenges. To achieve this, O-RANOS will leverage the rApps and xApps development framework supported by the Open RAN architecture.

To extend further the opportunity of private-public interoperation, the project will implement novel backhauling and neutral hosting services with a particular focus on satellite backhaul (mainly GEO and LEO constellations) for connecting to different core vendors.

Published 8 December 2021