Telecoms Diversification Taskforce publishes its report
The report sets out four strategic priorities with recommendations for government, the regulator and industry in each.
In addition to the specific and targeted findings and recommendations that the Taskforce has identified, a number of cross-cutting issues relevant to the implementation of the Government’s Diversification Strategy have also been raised:
- Education and skills
- The role, significance and commercial value of Private Networks in the overall market
- Intellectual property (IP) and Standard Essential Patents (SEPs)
- The need for a targeted international engagement strategy
Matt Evans, Director of Markets, techUK comments:
The Taskforce is right to identify 2021 as a ‘moment in time’ opportunity for the diversification of the telecoms supply chain and the acceleration of innovative and open networks. We welcome the report’s findings and recognise the work undertaken by the Taskforce — clearly there are few silver bullets in telecoms diversification as the report identifies the complexity of spurring a nascent market and rolling out 5G at pace, and doing both securely and resiliently.
Now the UK Government needs to take up the mantle and drive action across these areas. The telecoms sector, and wider tech industry, is a ready and willing partner but we need detailed plans that supports incumbent suppliers, attracts new vendors, accelerates the development and adoption of new and open network architectures, and captures the economic opportunity available.
The Taskforce’s recommendations from the four strategic priority areas
Establishing influence in telecoms standards setting bodies to encourage best practice in security and open networks: The report states that “The current system of standards setting is not working for the UK or its allies in delivering diverse, secure and resilient telecoms network equipment” and therefore recommends the UK Government establishes a function with responsibility for monitoring and tracking recommendations and standards activity in the telecoms space. This function would achieve a “stepping up” of influence and impact in key telecoms recommendations and standards bodies, enabling greater influencing of both technical standards and overarching governance by Government, industry and academia. The report also recommends a long-term strategic approach, to consider all elements of the network. Finally, the Taskforce calls for the establishment of a new free-standing body: the Digital Infrastructure Recommendations and Standards Alliance (DIRSA), which, with the support of like-minded countries could be used as a platform to share policy and technical positions.
Creating the right environment for diversification through government and regulatory policy interventions: Recognising the need for the conditions that will attract the entry of at least one, and ideally two, additional ‘scale’ vendors following the removal of Huawei equipment, the report calls for both established suppliers that have a presence in other markets to enter the UK market, and also the promotion of new suppliers in line with the stated aim to move toward open and interoperable networks. The Taskforce recommends the government sets a “challenging ambition” to work toward a significant portion of equipment within mobile operators’ networks being supplied by new suppliers and/or through open architectures, which it believes should reach 25% by the mid-2020s as the “initial aspiration” for mobile operators.
Other policy interventions include the government’s role in facilitating spectrum defragmentation in the UK’s 3.4 - 3.8GHz 5G band, to align with European policy, and remove a barrier to diversification. The convening of the UK’s MNOs and broader stakeholders is also recommended to set out a proposal for the sunsetting of both 3G and 2G networks. R&D tax reliefs for operators who are introducing Open RAN in their network are suggested, as well as the introduction of a ‘Permission to Experiment’ (regulatory sandbox) arrangement by Ofcom for operators as they begin to deploy equipment from new vendors and/or Open RAN solutions. There are recommendations for securing the telecoms supply chain (including introducing ‘provenance’ standards on vendors).
Identifying interventions and investment to accelerate the development and adoption of Open RAN technology: The Taskforce states that R&D activity and investment is vital in driving diversification, with Open RAN the clear priority. Five key areas are identified in this section of the report: product development and engineering in the UK’s areas of expertise (radio architecture and operating system and management ‘apps’); support for the developing systems integrator ecosystem in the UK; support for the cost of testing and integrating Open RAN equipment into operator networks (UK Telecommunications Laboratory and SONIC); performance improvement and network integration, including an urban Open RAN trial; and quick options to attract and incentivise Open RAN suppliers to establish an operational base within the UK, working with DIT.
Identifying opportunities to invest in long-term research and innovation to build UK Capability for current and future generations of telecoms technology: The report finds that the UK has the potential to establish itself as a key player in the telecoms equipment global ecosystem, through its telecoms legacy and strength in R&D and innovation. Time distribution for synchronization is the only technology that the Taskforce identifies as where future domestic provision is likely to be critical to CNI resilience, with a further three areas or priority: telecom-specific hardware and software solutions; cross-cutting technologies (like AI); and emerging socio-political issues such as Net Zero for telecoms. These strategic technology areas align with the recent Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy.
Finally, for the UK to take a leading position in the future generation of networks, the report recommends the government should establish a programme for the research and development of 6G networks and for future ‘network-of-networks’ working with academic institutions and SMEs to foster the long-term growth of the sector.
On its role going forward, and as government moves into the implementation phase, the Taskforce recommends the retainment of an external advisory group in some capacity to scrutinise the implementation of the diversification strategy; assess and monitor its success; and to shape further work as the government assesses the need for diversity across the broader supply chain.
Diversifying Telecoms Week 2021
From 22 to 26 March, techUK members, stakeholders and industry experts came together to explore topics and themes in telecoms diversification, and the future of the UK's networks.