29 Nov 2023
by Jonathan Freeman

Unlocking learning and innovation via the UK’s first Open RAN outdoor testbed

In this guest blog, Jonathan Freeman, Strategic Growth and Regulatory Director at Cellnex UK, explores how innovation and industry collaboration are proving crucial to furthering our understanding of Open RAN technology.

For the mobile telecoms sector, open network technologies, and specifically Open RAN, are garnering significant attention as a key enabler for the development of more flexible, innovative, and cost-effective mobile networks. It is an emerging technology that enables network operators to use a combination of hardware and software from different vendors – something which to date has not been commonplace in the industry.

These open networks will enable new vendors to enter the telecoms market more easily, as the open environment makes it easier for hardware and resources to be shared and combined. What’s more, it will help to draw startups and smaller companies into the ecosystem as it enables them to provide solution(s) for specific elements of the network; rather than having an end- to-end solution, which has previously been a significant barrier to entry. Having multiple vendors in the supply chain is also likely to increase competition, helping to facilitate innovation, drive down costs and improve the quality of products and services offered to end consumers.

But while there is collective support for the potential of open networks and their ability to reshape the telecoms landscape, the implementation of this technology demands ongoing investment in innovation to navigate the intricacies of physically deploying Open RAN in the future.

Bridging the Gap Between Indoor and Outdoor Testing

In a significant step towards advancing our understanding of Open RAN, Digital Catapult, alongside Cellnex UK, Ofcom, DSIT and Capgemini have joined forces to establish the UK’s first Open RAN outdoor testbed.

The solution will allow for the rigorous testing of multiple cohorts of hardware in a real-world environment, allowing for better understanding of the capabilities of different vendors and interoperability between them. The testbed will also enable the simulation of challenges encountered in real life network deployment, providing a crucial step towards the commercial deployment of Open RAN.

By closely mirroring commercial network deployments, the outdoor testbed environment will be able to replicate the complexities of both public and private 5G networks. It will include outdoor macro sites and small cell locations to create a test network with extensive coverage, enabling radio equipment of different sizes, power and capabilities to be deployed, and different network architectures to be tested. This will allow businesses to confirm critical network capabilities such as handover, mobility and interference management as well as overall performance.

Significantly, this shift to an outdoor environment marks an important step forward from previous lab-based interoperability testing. We will now be able to make the Open RAN concept a reality in an outdoor, real-life environment, and in doing so increase the accuracy of predictions and conclusions from the lab.

Navigating the OpenRAN Landscape Through Collaboration

Unlocking the full potential of Open RAN demands a unified effort from industry leaders and stakeholders. Open technology hinges on the interoperability of software and hardware, making collaboration essential to overcome  potential challenges. Collaboration will not only increase the speed at which we’re able to innovate but also embed the practice of sustainable knowledge sharing between partners across the sector. With the global understanding of Open RAN still very much evolving, the UK currently has a real opportunity to establish itself as a leader in the development of open network technology.

It is clear that the industry recognises the incredible benefits of Open RAN, and more widely open technologies, on a conceptual level. It is now crucial that we continue to prioritise innovation and collaboration in order to make these benefits a tangible reality.

For more information on how Cellnex UK can support with connectivity, visit: https://www.cellnex.com/gb-en/



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Jonathan Freeman

Jonathan Freeman

Strategic Growth and Regulatory Director , Cellnex