New government-backed 5G research lab

A new high-tech 5G lab, run by Ofcom and Digital Catapult and backed by the UK government, has been unveiled. The new facility aims to speed up the development of 5G communication kit and help Britain diversify its supply chains.

SONIC Labs has been built the using existing Digital Catapult infrastructure and capability, £1 million of seed funding from DCMS, and a bespoke SONIC Labs branch as part of Ofcom’s Innovation Lab in Riverside House. It aims to accelerate the adoption of ‘Open RAN’ technology which is a major pillar of the government’s 5G Diversification Strategy.

It was launched by the digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman, at a virtual event Thursday morning (24th June). Warman said, “I’m thrilled that SONIC Labs is opening its doors to the wealth of telecoms expertise we have in this country to explore new ways of building 5G networks.

“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. 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.”

SONIC Labs is based in London and Brighton and will be a real-world testing facility that aims to bring in multiple providers to supply components for 5G radio equipment. Telecoms equipment manufacturers can use the lab to examine how their kit behaves in a fully interoperable, technology-neutral mobile network.

Dame Melanie Dawes, chief executive, Ofcom, said, “SONIC Labs is an exciting project that gives us the opportunity to explore how new telecoms technology could operate in the UK market. It’s all about bringing innovation to our communications networks – helping to support fast, secure and reliable connections for the future. A number of companies are already getting involved and we look forward to more joining too.”

Joe Butler, chief technology officer, Digital Catapult, added, “In SONIC Labs we are experimenting to make interoperability a reality. 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.”

SONIC Labs will work with a diverse range of vendors to explore new open approaches to telecoms networks, including Accelleran, Mavenir, Radisys, Benetel, Phluido, Druid and Effnet.

In his speech at the SONIC Labs launch, Warman announced that DCMS is developing a long-term strategy for 5G and future wireless networks in the UK, including the role of spectrum and working with industry, Ofcom, academia and others.

The government’s 5G Diversification Strategy aims to build what it says is a more secure and innovative supply chain which is less reliant on a small number of multinational suppliers and more accessible for new market entrants.