UK gov launches £1m 5G labs in Brighton and London

The Sonic Labs project between Ofcom and Digital Catapult aims to diversify the UK's telecoms supply chain

A futuristic 5G mast in the middle of a city

The UK government is launching 'high-tech' labs in Brighton and London that aim to help speed up the development of new 5G-based technologies and reduce the country's reliance on a small set of providers.

'Sonic Labs' is a joint project from Ofcom and the technology non-profit organisation Digital Catapult, which has used £1 million of seed funding from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

Its aim is to help accelerate the adoption of 'Open RAN' technology, which is seen as a major pillar of the government's 5G Diversification Strategy. Open RAN, which stands for 'radio access network', is an industry-wide standard for supporting interoperation between hardware from different vendors.

It's a key part of the strategy to build a secure and innovative supply chain that is less reliant on a small number of multinational suppliers and more accessible to smaller firms. Essentially, it's about avoiding another Huawei situation, where multiple UK providers were using the Chinese firm's equipment and very few alternatives were available upon its removal.

"Our investment is a crucial element of our strategy to tackle the world's over-reliance on a small number of telecoms vendors by growing our own cutting-edge solutions at home," digital infrastructure minister Matt Warman said. "I look forward to seeing how the lab will help deliver the incredible social and economic benefits of new technology for people around the UK."

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Sonic Labs will be a 'real-world' testing facility, according to the government, open to multiple providers to supply components for 5G radio equipment and examine how their kits work in a fully interoperable mobile network.

"In Sonic Labs we are experimenting to make interoperability a reality," said Joe Buttler, Digital Catapult CTO. "This effort supports our mission to drive UK capability in advanced digital technology and we are grateful to Ofcom for working with us in this partnership and to DCMS for the opportunity to leverage the 5G testbeds we have developed in this effort."

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