Diversifying the 5G supply chain

As the UK steps up its nationwide 5G rollout, let’s look at one of the country’s key projects aimed at integrating new suppliers for open RAN solutions and developing home-grown innovation.
London view from Westminster Bridge

5G has certainly picked up pace and, with the need to expand the cellular infrastructure to permit the interoperation and coexistence of multiple software and hardware vendors, there’s now a promise of an open and holistic cellular future. 

Introducing the distributed unit

You might recall that I discussed the open radio access network (RAN) in “What are O-RAN, Open RAN and OpenRAN?” last year to clarify the distinctions made between the numerous flavors where, in short, Open RAN encourages openness in its approach by disaggregating both the software and hardware elements. As such, this negates vendor dependency from the many proprietary interfaces or application programming interfaces (APIs) and vendor-specific hardware systems and, in turn, allows such software and hardware vendors to seamlessly interoperate. This is the new approach conceived by the O-RAN Alliance and its numerous Open RAN architecture specifications.

I have discussed the architecture of the cellular infrastructure in many previous columns; however, one thing I didn’t mention was that the O-RAN strategy will divide the existing equipment into multiple components. So, the biggest challenge in the overall architecture from both a software and hardware perspective is the distributed unit (DU). Now, for completeness, the DU is responsible for undertaking the signal processing, where radio signals are translated to actual traffic, which is then carried over the optical and wireline networks to the core network infrastructure.

The impact on social and economic values

With this in mind, and given the implied complexity involved, the UK government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport have provided funding for UK-based vendors to integrate their “products into an operational DU component ready for deployment in 5G networks.” Incidentally ADVA are one of the partners that have received funding and are integral to the 5G DU-Volution project. Additionally, BT, the Scotland 5G Centre, the University of York and both British-based software companies AccelerComm, and CommAgility, are currently involved in the 5G Diversification Project, which was initiated at the start of this year. 

The newly formed 5G DU-Volution consortium’s mission is to evolve the 5G infrastructure, which addresses the objectives of the British government’s Future Radio Access Network: Diversifying the 5G Supply Chain. Moreso, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport recognizes the importance of 5G connectivity and the ultimate benefits, where we will all have access to ubiquitous cellular connectivity by 2027. Additionally, the government also acknowledges that a lack of a superior connectivity infrastructure might well have an impact on our social and economic future.

The government’s primary objective is to open up the supply chain in such a way that we will be no longer dependent on a limited number of providers.
A three-core strategy to our supply chain

The true realization of 5G connectivity must be derived from the confidence in our security and the infrastructure that supports it, irrespective of the changes needed to overcome any uncertainties we may have. With the limited number of suppliers of telecommunications equipment, the decision to remove potential compromises places our dependency elsewhere in the telecommunications supply chain. 

As such, the 5G Diversification Strategy promises a new way of thinking in our telecommunications supply chain, whilst abating any threats to our infrastructure and ensuing a resilient future for all our connectivity needs. What’s more, the British government has established “three core strands” to support the existing UK suppliers of telecommunications equipment whilst encouraging new and trusted suppliers to the British marketplace. By using this approach, they hope to ramp up the research and development of further open-interface solutions. The government’s primary objective is to open up the supply chain in such a way that we will be no longer dependent on a limited number of providers. This initiative is backed by a healthy £250 million fund to bolster the industry and provide a much-needed kick in its proverbial backside! 

Until next time …

The 5G DU-Volution project led by ADVA is just the start of an initiative to unlock the potential of 5G and to diversify our dependency in the telecommunications supply chain. Using the O-RAN philosophy, we will continue to solve the challenges presented by the disaggregation of the software, hardware and vendor specific technologies and, instead, move toward a vendor-neutral RAN infrastructure which, undoubtedly, will unleash a new generation of mobile services for all.

Christoph Glingener, CTO at ADVA adds, “As well as supporting interoperability and bolstering supply chains, 5G DU-Volution will create a springboard for British software innovation. By spearheading this project, we’re developing relationships between education institutions and employers and helping to transform the UK into a center of open RAN excellence.”

So, this is where an “open and holistically formed” Dr. G signs off.

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