Catch up: Future RAN competition partnering and networking event

On 27 July 2021, techUK hosted a Partnering & Networking event for the DCMS Future RAN competition (FRANC). FRANC is is an open competition that will allocate up to £30 million of R&D funding to projects that support the goals of the government's 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy. The competition is aimed at helping to incentivise industry to create new products and services to unlock the full potential of Open RAN.

Our event featured a presentation from Will McKinnon and Lilly Draper from DCMS, followed by a Q&A. We then heard from 12 pitchers, including companies with strengths in cyber security, network software, systems integration and telecoms hardware. The final section of the event included virtual networking to partner up techUK members and telecoms companies ahead for competition bids. 

You can catch up with the event recording below. 

Future RAN competition: partnering and networking event - Pitchers

  • CSA Catapult - Andy Sellars
  • AttoCore - Steve Coppins
  • Wipro - Javier Jiminez
  • NCC Group - Philip Marsden
  • Leonardo - Max Wigley
  • Athonet - Nanda Menon
  • Zeetta Networks - Vassilis Seferidis
  • Manchester Metropolitan University - Sunday Ekpo
  • Cradlepoint - Graham Lee
  • Electronic Media Services - Stephen Muldowney
  • iTrinegy Ltd - Nick Gardener
  • University of Bristol: Smart Internet Lab - Reza Nejabati

About the competition 

The Diversification Strategy identified R&D as a barrier to entry for new suppliers. The Government is investing in the UK’s R&D ecosystem and capability in order to underpin the long-term success of the reforms and initiatives set out in the Diversification Strategy. This competition will support the UK’s infrastructure innovation ecosystem to play a leading role transforming the UK telecoms market, and encourage more private sector innovation to help unlock opportunities for UK businesses to play a role in the emerging global supply chain based on open standards. 

Objectives

  • Accelerate the development of high-performance 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. 
  • 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. 

Functional priorities

DCMS has worked to define Open RAN functions which will be critical in delivering a minimum viable product. Barriers are grouped into buckets based on functionality in order to be technology agnostic, solution-led and welcome a broad array of submissions. These functionalities are often areas where proprietary solutions have a technical advantage, or the barrier does not exist for them due to the nature of proprietary architecture. Prioritisation was also based on existing market activity. Where there is evidence from DCMS engagement with industry that the barriers would be resolved absent intervention, they have been deprioritised to ensure effective ROI on competition funds. 

The key priorities identified are: 

  • Power Efficiency - Power consumption represents a large share of Opex for operators, and Open RAN cannot currently match proprietary solutions for efficiency. This also represents a strategic opportunity for the UK to establish global leadership in an area of priority across 5G. 
  • Spectrum Management - This encompasses an array of key capabilities needed for Open RAN to be viable in the UK’s market conditions, including handling new mmWave frequencies and aggregating service across fragmented spectrum bands. 
  • Software Platforms - Interchangeability of softwarised solutions is integral to Open RAN architecture. As such, having a common API (Application Programming Interface), operating system, or something analogous to an ‘app store’ from which MNOs could deploy software solutions and applications onto COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) hardware will be critical. 
  • Systems Integration - Maintaining seamless interoperability and integration between components from different suppliers in a single architecture will become both more complex and more important with the coming of Open RAN. Developing this capability is particularly relevant from a national security perspective given the lack of onshore skills in this area. 

While these are highlighted as priorities, the competition will welcome applications across the breadth and depth of the RAN, for example: RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) and other management applications, site connection handovers, electromechanical performance, neutral host, and MORAN (active infrastructure sharing) use cases. The competition will use a portfolio approach, ensuring we have a variety of successful bids. 

Who can apply?

This competition is open to applications from consortia with two or more members with funding available for activity taking place in the UK. The deadline for applications is Friday 27 August 2021.  

Funding

There is up to £30 million of funding available from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport in this competition. Grants ranging from £250,000 to £5 million will be made available to individual projects lasting up to 18 months. 

Further information on the competition, including application guidance, can be accessed on the DCMS website. The deadline for bids is 12:00 on Friday 27 August 2021. 

If you have any questions or would like more clarification from DCMS, please contact the FRANC team on [email protected]. Your question and respective answer will be aggregated, anonymised and added to a public Q&A document unless commercially sensitive.

Sophie Greaves

Sophie Greaves

Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy, techUK

Mia Haffety

Mia Haffety

Programme Manager - Telecoms and Net Zero, techUK

Tales Gaspar

Tales Gaspar

Programme Manager, UK SPF and Satellite, techUK

Matthew Wild

Programme Assistant - Markets, techUK