Connectivity concept

Government grants £88m to ‘future proof’ the UK mobile network

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Funding will allow trials of new mobile technology across the nation’s sporting venues and tourism hotspots.

The UK is investing £88m in research and development projects in the connectivity and telecoms sector to ensure the country is not “overly reliant on any one form of technology”, the government has announced. 

The funding will be awarded to 19 projects through the Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition. The initiatives were designed to develop and demonstrate Open Radio Access Network (RAN) solutions that could improve the connectivity in places with some of the biggest demand on mobile services, such as cities, airports and stadiums. 

The chosen projects include iconic sports and entertainment venues such as Sunderland’s Stadium of Light, Cardiff’s Principality Stadium, the National eSport Arena, the Cambridge Corn Exchange and Shelsley Walsh motorsport venue.  

Other winning initiatives are trials of open 5G networks in major urban centres (Glasgow, Cambridge, Liverpool, Bath and the City of London) and the seaside resorts of Blackpool and Worthing. 

Instead of using only one company’s equipment, Open RAN enables different companies’ technology to work together, which can make the network better and more flexible, the government explained. 

“Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business,” said Sir John Whittingdale, minister for data and digital infrastructure. 

“In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network.

“The projects we’re backing today with £88m in government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.”

For example, the Sunderland Open Network EcosysTem (SONET) project is a partnership between the city council and a consortium of partners – Boldyn Networks, British Esports, Sunderland Football Club and Perform Green – that aims to enable more engaging interactions, enriching the future of livestreamed football and live global esports events.

Liz St Louis, director of smart cities and enabling services at Sunderland City Council, said: “This innovative project will create a more immersive and engaging experience for esports players and fans." 

Nick Johnson, head of UK Telecoms Innovation Network, added: “Building a diversified telecoms infrastructure in the UK is crucial to unlocking opportunities for growth and creating a prosperous future. The projects announced today, in support of that mission, will both deliver exciting innovations and consider how to overcome some of the tricky but important challenges to wide-scale deployments.

“We look forward to working with the winners of this competition and connecting these innovators in telecoms with support and talent, to build a thriving and resilient telecoms industry.”

The announcement coincides with Vodafone beginning Open RAN equipment installation at 2,500 sites in Wales and south-west England. 

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