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UK to accelerate research on 5G and 6G technology

Research and development on next-generation 5G and 6G wireless technology and telecoms security is to be ramped up as part of a £110 million government investment.

In the package announced today, three top UK universities, University of York, University of Bristol and University of Surrey, will receive a share of £28 million to team up with major telecoms companies including Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung to design and build networks of the future such as 6G.

The move will bolster the UK’s status as a global leader in telecoms research and follows Ericsson and Samsung’s recent decision to set up cutting-edge 6G research centres in the UK. It will also support the roll out of lightning-fast 5G by making it easier for more firms to enter the market.

The universities will work with world-leading UK academics and industry players to ensure future network technologies, including 6G, are designed in a way that promotes a more diverse and innovative telecoms market, and brings an end to current network setups where all equipment within a network must be from a single supplier.

The package includes £80 million for a state-of-the-art UK Telecoms Lab being built in Solihull in the West Midlands. Under a new contract the government has signed with the National Physical Laboratory, the lab will act as a secure research facility for mobile network operators, suppliers and academics to research and test the security, resilience and performance of their 5G and, in the future, 6G network technology. The facility will also create dozens of specialised jobs in telecoms and cyber security for the region.

A new R and D partnership with the Republic of Korea has also kicked off, which aims to accelerate the deployment of Open RAN and associated technologies. The joint project, which will receive more than £3 million (including £1.2 million from the UK Government), will focus on the power efficiency of emerging technical equipment – one of the main obstacles holding back the roll out of this new technology.

Open RAN enables operators to ‘mix and match’ equipment from several suppliers within a network, and is crucial to the government’s £250 million strategy to end the UK’s reliance on a small number of firms to build and maintain 5G networks. It will help the country to build a more diverse, competitive and secure telecoms supply chain.

Digital Secretary Michelle Donelan said:

The technology powering our phone and internet networks is evolving rapidly and with 6G on the horizon we must stay ahead of the curve.

This government investment will see top UK universities join forces with industry to develop the nuts and bolts underpinning new networks, create skilled jobs testing the security of the latest telecoms tech, and ensure our plan for a more diverse and innovative 5G market is sustained in the future.

The funding will also turbocharge our work to strengthen telecoms supply chains so we are no longer reliant on a handful of companies to develop and maintain our 5G networks.

Andy Street, Mayor of the West Midlands, said:

Tech is one of the most exciting and fastest growing sectors in our region so it’s great news that this £80m UK Telecoms Lab is being built in Solihull, reinforcing the importance of this sector for us here in the West Midlands.

The Lab will bring a wide range of stakeholders together to drive innovation and create high quality new jobs for local people. With our tech sector already valued at over £15 billion, I cannot wait to see how this Lab helps to usher in an exciting future in the months and years ahead.

5G connectivity will revolutionise people’s daily lives and boost business productivity through much faster internet speeds, as well as underpinning new technologies such as driverless cars, improved artificial intelligence and precision healthcare.

Today’s funding package follows an announcement last week that the United States, Canada and Australia have committed to closer cooperation to diversify telecoms supply chains. As part of this, they signed up to the UK’s principles for developing and deploying Open RAN equipment. The principles aim to direct public and private investment in Open RAN so that it delivers on its promise of a more competitive, innovative and secure telecoms market.

The UK is becoming one of the best places in the world to invest in Open RAN. The £250 million 5G Diversification Strategy, published November 2020, sets out where the government will remove barriers for new vendors, invest in open technologies like Open RAN and work with like-minded countries to achieve the shared aim for secure and resilient telecoms supply chains.

The measures announced today support the UK’s strategy to reduce its reliance on a small number of suppliers to build and maintain telecoms networks, and supports the joint ambition made with UK mobile network operators in December 2021 for 35 per cent of mobile network traffic to pass through Open RAN by the end of the decade, as well as a string of investments worth more than £50 million in innovative trials and facilities to develop new Open RAN solutions.

Hamish MacLeod, Chief Executive of Mobile UK, said:

Mobile UK welcomes this package of announcements from the Government. International collaboration and investment in research and development of this kind are absolutely essential if the UK is to be a leader in the development of open networks that push for the highest standards of security, innovation and power efficiency.

President Sung Bae Jun of the Korean Institute for Information and Communications Technology Planning and Evaluation said:

It is a great pleasure to launch this UK-ROK Open RAN R and D Collaboration which will see Korean and British companies working together to develop innovative solutions to key open RAN and telecoms challenges.

I am also pleased to sign a joint DCMS-IITP Terms of Reference which will guide our cooperation and support further UK-ROK exchange. Both the UK and ROK recognise the importance of initiatives to support telecoms innovation and to support the resilience of telecommunication infrastructure supply chains.

CT Bureau

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