FRANC Competition

UK government launches £30m competition to speed up OpenRAN adoption

Scheme is part of the government’s 5G Diversification Strategy

The UK government has launched a new £30m competition to speed up the adoption of OpenRAN, as part of its 5G Diversification Strategy. The competition will tackle the world’s over-reliance on a small number of telecoms vendors by developing new, innovative solutions in the UK.

It is intended that it will help build confidence in the security and resilience of new 5G technology as it delivers incredible social and economic benefits for people and businesses.

The Future RAN Competition (FRANC) will fund innovative R&D projects across the UK, to speed up the adoption of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN), which allows equipment from multiple suppliers to be used in 5G networks and will end their current dependence on one company’s technology to function.

 Grants ranging from £250,000 to £5 million will be made available to individual projects lasting up to 18 months.

Particular topics of interest to DCMS include power efficiency, spectrum management, advanced software platforms, systems integration and security. The deadline for entries is 27 August; winners will be announced in the autumn.

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

“This competition aims to get some of our most creative minds helping the UK safely and securely deliver the amazing benefits of 5G for people and businesses.

It is a major part of our plans to harness the country’s tech prowess, open up the telecoms market, and create new jobs and investment as we build back better from the pandemic,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister, Matt Warman.

The launch of FRANC comes as the UK government moves onto the next stage of its £250 million 5G diversification strategy by forming a new independent body that will advise on how to increase choice in the telecom supply chain. Aptly titled the Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Advisory Council, its establishment was one of the recommendations in a report produced by the government’s Telecoms Diversification Taskforce.

This new advisory council will pick up where the taskforce left off, identifying potential supply chain issues in various areas of the network ecosystem and coming up with ways to tackle them. Simon Blagden, Conservative Party donor and former non-executive chairman of Fujitsu UK – which during his time there famously sued the government over a bungled NHS IT contract – will chair the new body.

The launch of FRANC and the new advisory council comes a week after the government cut the red tape on two new, £1 million labs tasked with accelerating the development, testing and launch of interoperable open networking solutions.

The SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centres (SONICs) – one in London, the other in Brighton – are run by Ofcom and Digital Catapult, an innovation centre run by Innovate UK, a public body sponsored by the government’s Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS).

The deadline for applications for the FRANC is 27 August 2021, with winning projects expected to be announced in the autumn.

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