Part of a strategic collaboration with scientists and engineers in India. The UK-India Future Networks Initiative (UKI-FNI) explores advanced innovations in supply chains for hardware and software systems. Providing connectivity and services for future digital networks, and a joint vision and research strategy in Beyond 5G and 6G.
The Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi, and the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, met virtually on 4 May 2021. In a joint statement linked to the UK-India Roadmap for 2030 both leaders emphasised their shared commitment to an enhanced partnership in science, education, research and innovation and welcomed the signing of the new UK-India MoU on Telecommunications/ICT and the Joint Declaration of Intent on Digital and Technology. This MoU underlined the importance of India to the UK in the ICT sector and to future network research.
The UKI-FNI project is being led by Professor Gerard Parr, Chair in Telecommunications Engineering and Head of School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia (UEA ) in Norwich and his partners are Regius Professor Rahim Tafazolli from University of Surrey, Prof Lajos Hanzo- University of Southampton and Prof Steve Hailes, University College London. Key partners in India are Prof KVS Hari from Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and Prof Subrat Kar from the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
The project has been funded by the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) which is the premier source of competitive funding for University research in the UK. The project will explore new innovative solutions in hardware, software and protocols that will support the future integration of high-speed mobile systems with metro and core optical communications networks. The research and innovation will be carried out using a testbed connecting India and UK to test innovative solutions. The context for the project lies with the business drivers to increase competitiveness and choice of vendors that design, manufacture and deploy systems such as antennae, transmission and switching equipment at base stations as well as the integration components that support backhaul transport and associated network management systems.
Rationale for the Project
There is a global push to explore innovations that will deliver the infrastructure, systems and services for next generation mobile communication networks. Part of this drive is coming from network operators who are seeking solutions to reduce the costs for network components by seeking to remove dependence and lock-in to a small group of telecom equipment OEMs.
Thus, for network operators, it is increasingly imperative to seek new ways for backward compatibility whilst seeking innovative architectures and systems that can disaggregate components in a 5G and 6G networks. They also wish to allow components with open interfaces to be deployed from multiple vendors and encourage start-ups and new entrants in the telecom equipment ecosystem. Initially the focus is on accelerating development of Radio Access Networks (RAN) leveraging key aspects of relevant reference architectures where the principle of openness and disaggregation of different functionalities and modules, namely Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN) is the focus.
Open Radio Access Networks allow operators to run software-based network functions on general-purpose vendor-neutral hardware, therefore allowing easier and deeper access to the market. They are a key technology to diversify the UK and India telecoms market, reduce the security and economic risks, and provide an opportunity to establish world leading digital communications market players. UKI-FNI is a community-building project that will address key research, engineering and business challenges and opportunities that have been identified and explored in previous collaboration projects involving the partners.
India has an excellent research and innovation base in networking software and has the complex testbeds required for proving new technologies. Indeed, under a previous £20 million EPSRC initiative led in the UK by Prof Parr (the India-UK Advanced Technology Centre) members of the assembled team successfully collaborated for over 10 years with partners across India and this experience will be leveraged in the UKI-FNI project. In recent years India has established 7 Telecoms Centres of Excellence through the Department of Telecommunications (DOT) and the Indian Institutes of Technology, with linked testbeds, business partners and expertise. Linking UK and Indian telecommunications Engineers, with the testbeds and collaboration between the world leading researchers from both countries will enable and increase technical expertise in the emerging OpenRAN technology and beyond, safeguard policy and security interests, and link UK researchers and businesses with one of the largest telecommunications markets in the world.
Benefits to be gained by UKI-FNI Project
There are many benefits to be accrued by this UKI-FNI project including:
- enabling a research-led approach to the investigation of engineering challenges posed by the increased needs of integration and testing of the various non-standard hardware and software components that are required to realise large scale Open-RAN deployments;
- providing opportunities to explore innovation in next generation mobile communications that will support vendor diversification and open source to allow new entrants into the marketplace;
- assisting with the realisation of the UK Combined Telecommunications Strategy by providing benchmarking and scoping opportunities for policies and protocols with India as a strategic partner country;
- to support the design, deployment and operation of joint testbeds for field trials of new Open-RAN systems, management software and components at a scale not possible in the UK alone and in diverse regulatory regimes;
- to enable the investigation of new service and business models in support of new entrants to the Telecommunications marketplace;
- to explore potential new FDI opportunities from India into the UK in the ICT sector and also to investigate and grow new business opportunities for UK companies in India;
- establishment of understanding regulatory issues in both countries, the two countries can join forces in influencing future 5.5Gand 6G standards and IPR policies.
Ultimately, we want the project to bring together the leading UK and Indian engineers, scientists, industry and government agencies to develop a roadmap for a much larger, mutually beneficial and longer-term collaboration between UK and India in the important Digital Telecomms sector.
Partners and management board
Head of School of Computing Sciences at the University of East Anglia
Professor in the Department of ECE, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore
Regius Professor of Electronic Engineering, FREng, Professor of Mobile and Satellite Communications
Professor of Wireless Systems and Head of Department for UCL Computer Science
head of the academic research team Next-Generation Wireless, university of southampton
Ram and Sita Sabnani Chair Professor, Dept of Electrical Engineering & Bharti School of Telecom Technology and Management
lead of BT’s Global Research and Innovation programme