The Telecoms Diversification Taskforce (Taskforce) has published its Report which sets out recommendations to deliver the Government’s ambitions for 5G supply chain diversity.
Key recommendations of the Report
- Working via telecoms standards-setting bodies to encourage best practice in security and open networks.
- Using policy to create the right environment for diversification in the supply market – e.g. intervention on the timing for the switch off of 2G and 3G networks could support the entry of new network vendors into the supply market.
- Identifying what is needed to accelerate Open RAN technology, including establishing a fund for developing new products and designing testing facilities which are fit for purpose.
- Identifying R&D investment opportunities to build UK capability for next generation network technology.
The Taskforce was established in 2020 to identify solutions and opportunities to diversify the supply market for 5G. Since then, the Government has published its 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, and introduced the Telecommunications (Security Bill). Together these set out the Government’s intention to ensure the security of UK telecoms networks and its approach to build a diverse supply market.
The Security Bill will introduce new powers for the Secretary of State to manage the risks posed by high risk vendors. The Security Bill illustrates how it will require operators to limit or altogether prohibit the use of equipment and managed services of high risk vendors in 5G access and core networks and other next generation networks.
The diversification strategy sets out a number of targeted measures focussed around three key areas: supporting incumbent suppliers; encouraging new suppliers to enter the supply market; and accelerating open-interface and interoperable technologies such as Open RAN. The diversification strategy underpins the work of the Taskforce which is focussed on how to deliver the Government’s ambitions for 5G supply chain diversity.
Findings and recommendations
- Influencing telecoms standards: The Taskforce found that the current system does not deliver diverse, secure and resilient UK telecoms networks. The Taskforce recommends a UK-led, but internationally focused, industry solution which is enabled and supported by the Government, focussed in particular on:
- improving capacity to coordinate and monitor standards activity;
- growing influence and impact within existing structures;
- developing and delivering a long-term strategic approach in response to China’s 2035 standards; and
- promoting new systems such as the ‘Digital Infrastructure Recommendations and Standards Alliance’.
- Policy and regulatory measures: The Taskforce suggests that the Government should set out a clear ambition for deploying equipment from alternative scale suppliers and Open RAN solutions to promote diversity given the impending exit of certain high-risk vendors. This includes an aspiration for operators to procure 25% of their network equipment from these new market participants and/or through open architectures by the mid-2020s. To support this, the Government should:
- remove or lower current barriers for new entrants e.g. spectrum defragmentation and the consolidation of network standards;
- consider methods of enabling diversification e.g. incentivising the adoption of new solutions and providing regulatory sandboxes for experimentation; and
- secure the supply chain e.g. by introducing ’provenance‘ standards on vendors.
- R&D and innovation: The Taskforce recognised that R&D should: (i) be focused on the accelerated development and deployment of Open RAN and/or alternatives; and (ii) identify opportunities where the UK can establish its expertise and capability across the supply chain. The Taskforce suggested:
- investing in the urban Open RAN trials in 2022, and in product development and engineering in the UK’s areas of expertise;
- supporting the developing systems integrator ecosystem in the UK;
- ensuring that independent testing facilities are provided; and
- attracting Open RAN suppliers to establish operations in the UK.
- Identifying opportunities to invest in long-term R&D and innovation to build UK capability: The Taskforce identified further key technologies to consider for future research which provide potential for the UK to develop a globally competitive capability, including in the following categories:
- core telecom-specific hardware and software solutions;
- cross-cutting technologies that will play an increasingly important role in the design and operation of telecoms networks; and
- emerging socio-political issues that can be addressed via telecoms and/or need to be considered in the design of future networks.
- core telecom-specific hardware and software solutions;
- Broader areas recommended for action: The Taskforce made some further recommendations to the Government, including:
- re-direction of funding to ensure sustainable diversification in the long term;
- co-ordination of cross government activity to ensure a central coordinating mechanism to bring new suppliers into the UK market;
- clarification of the broader legal framework for private networks; and
- further consideration of intellectual property and standard essential patents.
The Taskforce recommendations are focussed on how to deliver the Government’s ambitions for 5G supply chain diversity; something which is necessary given the decision to remove Huawei from 5G networks by 2027. Open RAN, for example, provides an opportunity to increase that diversity and is clearly a focus of the Government and the recommendations made by the Taskforce. For operators, Open RAN could help reduce the market dominance of Nokia and Ericsson in 5G access networks and could address the challenge of vendor lock-in that keeps operators reliant on single vendors which makes diversification challenging. Open RAN can also help operators evolve to being a software-orientated organisation. But Open RAN is still in its infancy – it is not yet a standard, it is merely a concept and will require some of the areas recommended for action by the Taskforce, as well as collaboration across the entire ecosystem (including operator investment to facilitate product development) for it to scale. We will be watching the impact of the diversification strategy and the Security Bill on the market with particular interest.
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