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Digital Catapult to Field Test OpenRAN 5G Standalone Networks at New UK Outdoor Site

Wednesday, Nov 1st, 2023 (12:01 am) - Score 712

Digital Catapult has teamed-up with Ofcom, Cellnex UK and Capgemini to launch its first independent 5G SA (Standalone) outdoor field-testing site – via SONIC Labs – for Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) technology. The technology tested here could eventually make it into commercial mobile networks.

Until recently if a mobile operator, such as Three UK, Vodafone, O2, EE or any of the new smaller (local) networks, wanted to buy new radio kit then they were often limited to a handful of big suppliers (Nokia, Ericsson etc.). The O-RAN approach seeks to introduce some flexibility and lower costs by standardising the design and functionality of such kit and software, thus increasing the number of companies able to supply them via vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology, and boosting interoperability.

NOTE: The Radio Access Network (RAN) side typically covers infrastructure, masts and antennae.

At the same time, most 5G mobile networks today are still classed as Non-Standalone (NSA), which partly rely on slower 4G infrastructure. By comparison, Standalone (SA) 5G represents a pure end-to-end 5G network that can deliver improvements such as ultra-low latency times (fast), better upload speeds, network slicing capabilities, better support for Internet of Things (IoT) devices, increased reliability and security.

So far, many of the OpenRAN deployments we’ve seen have been using 4G and NSA style 5G solutions, but the new outdoor facility – located in Hammersmith and Fulham – will test the very latest 5G SA capable OpenRAN systems. This will allow vendors to rigorously test their products in a representative network deployment scenario.

Joe Butler, CTO at Digital Catapult, said:

“Real world testing is an essential part of enabling early stage telecoms products to make the journey to robust and performant propositions. This is particularly important in the case of Open RAN and supports a diverse supply chain of innovative, market ready products.

This groundbreaking outdoor field site is a fantastic addition to SONIC Labs’ existing state-of-the-art facilities, enabling real-world testing alongside our lab testing capabilities. Digital Catapult is thrilled to be working with our innovative global partners, Ofcom, Cellnex UK and Capgemini to accelerate the evolution of Open RAN technology.”

The new outdoor testbed has been established after Ofcom granted Digital Catapult a special research and development licence, to encourage further Open RAN experimentation (e.g. covering sufficient frequency radio channel size to test the higher 5G throughputs).

The outdoor site will also be fully integrated with existing indoor facilities and aims to provide a unique location to enhance product testing by simulating the typical challenges encountered in a real-world network. The site will also include outdoor macro coverage and small cell deployment to create a test network with overlapping coverage, enabling radio equipment of different sizes, power and capabilities, and different architectures to be deployed.

Cellnex UK will be leading the provision of site infrastructure, edge hosting and transmission services, while Capgemini will concentrate primarily on supplying the Open RAN solution and System Integration capabilities.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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1 Response
  1. Avatar photo Buggerlugz says:

    There is plenty of fields outdoor near me if they want to try it out!

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