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Open RAN testing facilities in the UK unveiled by Digital Catapult and Ofcom

Digital Catapult, working in partnership with Ofcom, has today announced the opening of its new Open RAN testing facilities as part of its SONIC Labs (SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre) programme, funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT).

The programme is driving forward the rollout of a new wireless communication technology known as Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), which enables mobile networks to be built using a variety of different equipment suppliers.

The new facilities provide multiple Open RAN vendors with the opportunity to trial, test and accelerate the development of their products in a commercially neutral environment. The SONIC Labs programme aims to support the UK government’s 5G Telecoms Diversification Supply Chain Strategy so it is fit for the future – making it more secure and accessible for new market entrants, as well as fostering innovation in the Open RAN space.

Multiple vendors are already carrying out end-to-end Interoperability, performance and scalability testing in the dedicated purpose built space with state of the art testing and lab infrastructure. So far, fifteen vendors and thirty six Open RAN products have collaborated with SONIC Labs, signifying the largest concentration of Open RAN vendors coming together to collaborate in a commercially neutral environment in the UK, with reach to additional companies set to expand even further in the coming months.

At the official opening of the new facilities in Kings Cross, London, some of the companies involved in SONIC Labs will share their learnings and insights to date, alongside a discussion from labs and testbeds across the globe, such as i14Y Lab based in Germany and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) from the US.

Digital Catapult has also welcomed nine companies to the next activity in the SONIC Labs programme, including global Open RAN vendors new to the UK market such as Taiwan based WNC and US based Airspan Networks.

The next technical activity will focus on exploring the RAN Intelligence Controller (RIC), a system that controls the radio access networks (RAN) for optimised performance and can provide real-time analytics using Artificial Intelligence /Machine Learning based algorithms for informed decision-making and better network performance. Four organisations are set to bring their RIC products for interoperability testing and integration – including Accelleran and IS-Wireless.

The programme continues to evolve and extend its activities to push the capabilities of the Open RAN products, with the next activity focused on exploring outdoor focused products, as well as continuing maturity of indoor products such as testing and optimising the performance of the indoor multi-vendor systems. Field trials in indoor and outdoor environments will help to give a more realistic deployment for Open RAN systems and the maturity of the products.

The companies joining the next SONIC Labs activity include: Accelleran, Airspan Networks, Benetel, IS-Wireless, Phluido, WNC and Radisys, with additional vendors set to join in the coming weeks.

Joe Butler, Chief Technology Officer at Digital Catapult, said: “We’re proud to be unveiling our new cutting-edge interoperability lab to give more companies the opportunity to accelerate the testing of their Open RAN products. Through our SONIC Labs programme we’re helping diversify the UK telecoms supply chain market and drive forward open networks in the UK.”

Julia Lopez, Digital Infrastructure Minister, said: “Our £250 million investment in facilities like SONIC Labs is boosting competition in the telecoms market and driving the development of new mobile technology.

“These new facilities are another example of how the UK is at the forefront of telecoms innovation, supporting our diversification strategy by boosting business and growing the economy.”

Lindsey Fussell, Group Director Network and Communications at Ofcom, said: “Open Ran technology is a vital piece in the puzzle towards creating more diverse supply chains in the telecoms market. And having a new, dedicated space for the SONIC Labs project where companies can test their Open Ran products and explore new approaches, will help this innovative project go from strength to strength. We’re looking forward to working with the new companies involved and continuing our partnership with Digital Catapult.”

Gene Chuang, CTO, Networking BG at WNC – a company new to SONIC Labs, said: “We are very happy to be able to prove the readiness of our O-RU for the market through SONIC Labs’ verification program. With SONIC Labs’ support, we look forward to seeing a more open, diverse, and integrated 5G supply-chain ecosystem.”