Digital Catapult and Ofcom’s SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC) project aims to explore the readiness of Open RAN for real world applications

Back in December 2020, as part of the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport’s ongoing 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, the government set up SONIC, aiming to provide a platform for emerging suppliers to collaborate and demonstrate interoperable solutions.

SONIC is led by Digital Catapult and Ofcom and is set to work alongside organisations also aiming at standards development and Open RAN technologies, such as ETSI, the ORAN Alliance, and the Telecoms Infra Project (TIP). The ultimate goal of SONIC is to contribute towards creating an open disaggregated network ecosystem in the UK, providing the nation’s telecoms industry with greater choice when it comes to infrastructure.

SONIC planned to become live and operational from May 20201.

Now, the project has seen its first influx of 5G solution providers have joined the project, including Accelleran NV, Phluido Inc, Effnet AB, Benetel Ltd, Mavenir, Foxconn, NEC, and Radisys, with more expected to follow in the near future.

“SONIC will foster an ecosystem in the UK of large and small telecoms suppliers, with multiple providers for each element in the technology stack,” said Digital Catapult’s CTO, Joe Butler. "Providing a neutral environment for testing and demonstration with eight solution providers will surface the opportunities and challenges of interoperability. We will collectively learn what works and what does not in terms of integration, technology and processes.”

Interest in Open RAN in Europe is growing fast. At the end of January, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Vodafone, and Telefonica all signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to collaborate on the new technology; Italy’s TIM also signed the memorandum a few weeks later.

In the UK itself, Vodafone announced in November last year that it would be incorporating Open RAN solutions in around 2,600 of its sites. This commitment comprises around a third of Vodafone’s sites which currently use Huawei technology that will need to be replaced due to government mandate. 

November also saw the announcement of Japanese tech company NEC’s intention to create a Centre of Excellence in the UK. The Centre is already bearing fruit, with NEC and O2 conducting a successful trial of Open RAN technology just last month.

The appeal of Open RAN appears to be growing, but how long before it can offer a real alternative to traditional RAN equipment, especially for 5G, remains unclear.


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