Satellite Applications Catapult joins UK Government funded O-RANOS project

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The Satellite Applications Catapult is continuing to bridge the UK’s digital divide with pioneering work on the newly announced O-RANOS project. O-RANOS is one of 14 initiatives funded by the UK Government’s Future RAN Competition (FRANC) which seeks to encourage the diversification of telecoms suppliers by increasing the availability of vendors. In doing so, the Government aims to increase competition and boost innovation within the UK.

The Catapult join O-RANOS’s multi-skilled consortium, led by Cellnex, providing satellite communications and ORAN expertise and will support the project’s focus on the intelligent use of multi-bearer backhaul (including satellite communications) in ORAN.

The project’s goal is to demonstrate the interoperability (exchange of information) between private and public networks that coexist on an 5G Open RAN (Radio Access Network) environment in a variety of different settings. The plan is to replicate a public network and deploy private networks over multiple locations to demonstrate scale, and the ability to test various data transfer techniques, including satellite.

To support, the Catapult will lead research on an intelligent Open RAN environment that can operate on a range of backhaul networks, in addition to the use of Neutral Host concept.

What does this mean?

In short, to control and optimise Radio Access Network (RAN) functions, a software defined component known as a RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) is required. RICs are central to the Open RAN architecture and enable multivendor interoperability, intelligence, agility, and programmability to radio access networks.[1] In other words, a RIC hosts third party applications which manage and optimise Radio Access Networks at scale.

For O-RANOS, the Catapult will research ‘traffic steering’ – that is, redirecting network traffic – as a Use Case to optimise the system for network operators. This is an innovative piece of work that will allow for further optimisation of ORAN.

Meanwhile, the Catapult is also helping to progress Neutral Host over 5G within ORAN – a  oncept that could help empower communities and entities to have control over how to improve connectivity in their geographical regions. A Neutral Host is a third-party supplier of infrastructure that provides access to the 5G RAN for multiple Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to use. As MNOs have traditionally built and maintained their own RAN infrastructure, with cell towers generally concentrated in areas with more commercial opportunities. These tend to be in densely populated regions such as cities. This, however, has resulted in a shortage of cell towers in rural and remote regions where there are less people and is therefore less money to be made for network operators. In addition, as those regions are also limited in terms of terrestrial backhauling connectivity (e.g. fibre). Therefore, such cell tower deployments require suitable alternative technologies (e.g. high throughput satellite communication) to connect back to the Operators network. A gap between those with access to connectivity and those without – known as the Digital Divide – is leaving some people behind in our ever-connected world (imagine studying and working from home without the internet).

With Neutral Hosting, multiple MNOs can rent access to a slice of the 5G network using third-party infrastructure at any given time. This means one mast can facilitate several companies, reducing the cost of operating in less populated regions for the companies. A Neutral Host in the outskirts Bristol, where the trial is taking place, could therefore boost connectivity in the region as mobile network operators begin to do more business there.

And for the public? Thanks to research in O-RANOS, end-users should benefit from an improved service and greater connectivity. Consortium partners will be significantly contributing to the faster rollout of 5G throughout the UK, boosting the speed and reliability of networks for everyone in the UK.

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Contributors: Ashweeni Beeharee, Marilena Kalitsounaki, Nathan Woodley