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DCMS 5G Diversification Strategy leads to UK interoperability push

Posted 30 Nov 2020

DCMS has announced, as part of its 5G Diversification Strategy, the SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC). A joint programme between Digital Catapult and Ofcom to test interoperability and integration of open networking solutions, SONIC begins with Open RAN and focuses on open software-centric networking. DCMS is funding the SONIC real-world test facility to accelerate Open RAN adoption and its role in secure and resilient networks, with a view to fostering opportunities for the UK in a diversified telecoms supply chain. SONIC will be operational from May 2021, coupling laboratory capabilities with real world indoor and outdoor deployments.

SONIC will foster an ecosystem in the UK of large and small suppliers, along with the telecoms industry, developing a supply chain with multiple providers for each element in the technology stack. Government, Ofcom and Digital Catapult aim together to build a better understanding of technology readiness, maturity and challenges of Open RAN, to inform future technology roadmaps and strategies. The Centre will provide a neutral environment for testing and demonstration, working with additional organisations such as those involved in standards development.

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said, “Our investment in SONIC is an important part of our strategy to develop homegrown solutions to the world’s over-reliance on only a few telecoms vendors. We’re bringing together the best of British telecoms expertise to explore new ways to build 5G networks, help create new jobs and deliver the revolutionary social and economic benefits of new technology for people across the UK.”

Simon Saunders, Director of Emerging & Online Technology at Ofcom added, “This is a great opportunity to support innovation and help shape the UK’s supply chains of the future. Companies large and small will be able to test their equipment in a real-world environment, and see how it could potentially operate in the UK’s telecoms networks. We look forward to working with Government, Digital Catapult and industry on this important work.”

Digital Catapult Chief Technology Officer, Joe Butler says, “Disaggregated, software centric approaches such as Open RAN have huge potential to drive innovation in telecoms networks and grow the UK’s role in the supply chain. Our experience building and running a number of 5G testbeds, executing factory-based private networks and providing live venue experimentation has created deep understanding of potential market applications. We are pleased to be working with DCMS and Ofcom to encourage new vendors and product and service providers to take advantage of network infrastructure evolution in a neutral space.”

Digital Catapult’s existing testbeds in London and Brighton, utilised by large businesses and startups, will be leveraged rapidly in SONIC to enable UK companies to maximise their role in this new, disaggregated supply chain and to develop products and services. The combination of Open RAN and 5G will bring the benefits of open networks and cloud together, providing fertile ground for innovation.