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FRANC-ly my dear, the UK government does give an OpenRAN

The UK government has launched an initiative designed to speed up the adoption of OpenRAN as part of its quest to erase Huawei from the country’s mobile networks.

The move coincided with the appointment of a new leader for the Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Advisory Council, a new body that succeeds the Telecoms Diversification Taskforce, which was itself set up in September last year to increase diversification in the telecoms industry value chain…and to help push Huawei out.

The taskforce published its recommendations in April, one of which was the creation of a permanent external body to oversee the diversification strategy, hence the introduction of the  Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Advisory Council. It will be chaired by former non-executive chairman of Fujitsu UK, Simon Blagden, CBE.

The taskforce also called for investment into R&D geared towards overcoming the major technical barriers to OpenRAN, which of course has vendor diversity at its core, no pun intended.

Thus, the government is launching the Future RAN Competition (FRANC) which has a £30 million pot of cash to award to projects designed to, in its own words, “fast-track the availability of viable OpenRAN products and suppliers and create a stronger case for government and business investment in the technology,” the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport announced on Friday.

It is encouraging techie types to submit proposals for a share of the funding. Projects could cover areas including power efficiency, spectrum management, advanced software platform availability, systems integration and security, it suggested.

“The government hopes the competition fosters new research collaboration between international and new homegrown players in the UK’s public telecoms networks,” it said.

FRANC applications are due by 27 August, DCMS said, with the winning projects due to be announced in the autumn.

FRANC joins a couple of other OpenRAN projects that are already up and running as part of the UK’s diversification strategy. The government has ploughed £1 million into the SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC), a joint programme between the Digital Catapult and Ofcom, which last week launched new lab facilities in Brighton and London that will allow kit makers to test how their equipment behaves in a fully interoperable, technology-neutral mobile network. It also committed £1.6 million into NEC-led NeutrORAN, which is developing an OpenRAN testbed in rural North Wales.

“[FRANC and SONIC] are major pillars of the government’s £250 million 5G Diversification Strategy which was published alongside a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment from 5G networks,” DCMS noted, in case we had forgotten which company triggered all this.

These are not huge sums of money from the UK government, relative to the telecoms industry’s overall R&D spend, but they are an indication that it is sticking to its guns on diversification and continuing to push the OpenRAN agenda.

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