A £1.4-million project led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) will support the integration of high-speed communications networks in India.
The new UK-India Future Networks Initiative (UKI-FNI) will explore innovations in the supply chain for hardware and software systems that provide access, connectivity and services for future digital networks. The UKI-FNI project, collaborating with scientists and engineers in India, will also develop a joint vision and research strategy for the future of 5G and 6G.
Prof Gerard Parr, Chair in Telecommunications Engineering and Head of School of Computing Sciences at UEA, is leading the project. Partners include Regius Prof Rahim Tafazolli at the University of Surrey; Prof Lajos Hanzo at the University of Southampton; and Prof Steve Hailes at University College London. Key partners in India are Prof KVS Hari of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore and Prof Subrat Kar of the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.
The project is funded by the UK Engineering & Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).
The research will explore the technical requirements for a testbed connecting India and the UK to test innovative solutions. It aims 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.
India has an excellent research and innovation base in networking systems 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), the team collaborated for more than 10 years with partners across India – an experience that will be leveraged in the UKI-FNI project.
Prof Parr said: “To those of us who have access to telecommunications services and the Internet, it comes as no surprise how reliant we are on voice, data and web services for email, video conferencing and file sharing, as well as social media for business and personal needs. This has been much more visible during the Covid pandemic.
“For the telecoms service providers there are important considerations in providing all these systems across regions and nations, including performance, cyber security, energy efficiency, scalability and operational costs for maintenance and upgrades.
“The consideration on costs is attracting increasing attention when we consider the limited number of global vendors who manufacture and supply the systems over which our data flows across the national and international networks.”
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 aiming to remove dependence and lock-in to a small group of telecom original equipment manufacturers.
Initially the focus is on accelerating development of Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN).
OpenRAN is a way of designing existing technological components to allow them to be used within a network. Instead of using a proprietary (single-source) system to build the radio access portion of a 5G network, a fully developed and standards-based OpenRAN would allow telecoms operators to integrate components made by various manufacturers.
Prof Nader Azarmi, Principal, Global Research & Innovation, at BT Applied Research said: “OpenRAN is still relatively new and further research, development and experimentations are essential for its technology readiness.
“Collaboration between the UK and India, involving two nations’ academia and industry with government support, will bring unique opportunities and encourage new and more organisations to enter the RAN vendor supply market.
“The confidence gained through this development of innovative solutions and demonstration of benefits will be crucial for operators with large existing networks, as operators delivering a high-quality service will be cautious about introducing new technology.”
However, there are many problems to address, Prof Parr said, “and through this UKI-FNI network we intend to investigate technical and functional requirements to assist in the development of a research and innovation roadmap toward high-performing and AI-enabled OpenRAN.”
OpenRAN are key to diversifying the UK and India telecoms markets, reducing the security and economic risks, and establishing world-leading digital communications market players.
Prof K.V.S Hari from the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore said: "The OpenRAN initiative is the beginning of a march toward building complex telecommunication solutions. This would enable telecom companies to provide affordable access to communication services to a wider population, and governments to build just and equitable societies.”
UKI-FNI is a community-building project that will address key research, engineering and business challenges and opportunities. The team will also endeavour to develop a longer-term, larger-scale research and innovation collaboration in future networks between the UK and India.
You can find out more about the strategic partnership, as well as the work of the UKI-FNI, on the UKI-FNI website.