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UK government publishes its Open RAN wish list

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The UK state is really into Open RAN, so much so that it apparently wants to have a say in defining the nascent standard.

Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez recently announced a set of principles for developing and deploying Open RAN equipment. Framing it this way seems like a hedging position by the UK government, in so much as it’s testing the boundary between state support and direct intervention. Essentially these principles function as pre-requisites for the receipt of public money, which operators famously covet.

“With so much momentum behind Open RAN, now is the right time to set these principles so industry and governments can take a common approach to developing and deploying this technology, so it delivers on its promise to disrupt the market and spark a wave of innovation and competition in telecoms,” said Lopez.

You can access the policy paper here, but if the prospect of reading the full monty doesn’t set your pulse racing, the TL;DR comes down to four principles.

  1. Open disaggregation, allowing elements of the RAN to be sourced from different suppliers.
  2. Standards-based compliance, allowing all suppliers to test solutions against standards in an open, neutral environment.
  3. Demonstrated interoperability, ensuring disaggregated elements work together as a fully functional system.
  4. Implementation neutrality, allowing suppliers to innovate and differentiate on the features and performance of their products.

They managed to get a few other UK Open RAN stakeholders to pipe up too.

“Open RAN promises to make our networks more resilient and futureproof, but this market change must be managed carefully to deliver on that promise whilst maintaining security and performance levels,” said Ian Levy, Technical Director at the National Cyber Security Centre. “These principles set a clear direction of travel for the industry to build secure and resilient networks for 5G and beyond.”

‘Vodafone is taking a leading role in the development and rollout of OpenRAN, which will be a central part of our long-term network evolution and resilience,” said Scott Petty, Chief Digital and IT Officer at Vodafone. “We welcome the government’s continued commitment to this innovative and exciting technology and look forward to accelerating the adoption of OpenRAN across the wider telecoms ecosystem.”

While this does feel like a positive intervention by the UK government, some of those principles do seem somewhat redundant. Surely Open disaggregation and interoperability are already baked into the concept. Nonetheless Open RAN has yet to be formally standardised and leadership in that direction has to come from somewhere. You can learn more about Lopez’s position on the government’s involvement in the UK Open RAN scene in this exclusive video interview.

 

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