Scroll down to explore
The Satellite Application Catapult joins a multi-skilled consortium, providing satellite communications and Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) expertise. We will support the project’s focus on the intelligent use of multi-bearer backhaul (including satellite communications) in Open RAN. O-RANOS is the only satellite initiative of the fourteen initiatives funded by the UK government’s future radio access network competition, making it a unique prospect for UK digital innovation.
In an Open RAN environment, the Radio Access Network (RAN) is separated into its three main building blocks. The Radio Unit (RU), the Distributed Unit (DU) and finally the Centralised Unit (CU). The concept of Open RAN is “opening” the protocols in the interfaces between these various building blocks (radios, hardware, and software) in the RAN.
To control and optimise O-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, and programmability to radio access networks. In other words, a RIC allows third party applications to manage and optimise radio access networks at scale.
The selection of the appropriate bearer (satellite or fibre) for backhauling will be coordinated by a routing decision mechanism through one or more xApps that the RIC (RAN Intelligent Controller) will host. User technical requirements and logical analysis for the development of the xApp will all be performed. This xApp will select the backhaul link, steering data traffic based upon real-time network link characteristics as well as accounting for pre-defined policies.
The main objective is to examine the use of satellite technology into the Open RAN ecosystem. The use of a satellite communication network alongside a terrestrial counterpart (such as Fibre) will form a hybrid satellite-terrestrial backhaul network for the Open RAN to the core network. Through development of the network’s capability, greater resilience and higher link availability can be achieved.
The decisions governing the use of multiple backhauling technologies will be handled by the RIC, through one or more xApps. In addition, Open RAN deployment of neutral host will be explored and demonstrated as part of this work package. Integral to the successful rollout of 5G and for the purposes of 5G-ORANOS, a satellite constellation known as Starlink has been chosen.
“True to our mission as The Satellite Application Catapult, the UC team along with our project partners are putting satellite communication on the map for O-RAN. Through this strategic project, the aim is to cross-fertilise the Open RAN and satellite communication sectors, carving out the important role that satellite communication will play as we move towards 6G. We are actively building strong relationships with key innovative partners in the Open RAN world through the wider DCMS FRANC projects community”
Ashweeni Beeharee, Head of Ubiquitous Connectivity
Our role in O-RANOS
The following challenges will be addressed during this project aiming to end in Q2 in 2023
End-to-end multi-vendor multi-domain O-RAN architecture
Convergence of private and public networks
Test and validation ecosystem
Addressing security in an Open RAN frame
The Satellite Applications Catapult will be responsible for the design, build and test of two networks as described above. The radio network is sourced by Parallel Wireless and will be installed in both Bristol and the Future Network Development Centre site (FNDC) at Westcott. This will be connected via Fibre and Satellite Backhaul to the 4G/5G Core Networks provided by Attocore; sited at the FNDC as well as the University of Bristol.
We will provide end to end network connectivity between Parallel Wireless O-RAN platform and AttoCore’s Core Network, through means of hybrid satellite and fibre backhaul links, the selection of which will be handled by the RIC (RAN Intelligent Controller).
In addition, we will provide the network design and implementation of neutral hosting to both Catapult and Attocore Core network. We will also purchase, configure, and deploy Commercial Off The Shelf (COTS) intelligent routing engines to provide multiple simultaneous satellite backhaul links. The satellite bearer (network) selection will be optimised by providing network bonding capability over IPSec (Internet Protocol Security) links.
For O-RANOS, the Catapult will research traffic steering. This is redirecting cellular traffic as a use case to optimise the system for network operators. If there is multiple backhaul within the topology, there is also scope for web applications to work in tandem with smart backhaul routing technology adapting traffic flow for their specific requirements.
What does it mean?
Mobile network operators (MNOs) have traditionally built and maintained their own radio access networks. Cities have often developed at a much faster rate in the past, due to greater commercial opportunities. In recent years, higher bandwidth capability 4G/5G has spread within the UK to more rural areas, enabling a more digitally connected population. However, fibre has yet to make its way through more remote areas due to three main limitations: distance, cost, and environmental obstacles.
Consortium members will be significantly contributing to the capability and consistency of 5G networks for everyone in the UK. The technological development will also serve a significant purpose in other additional use cases such as UAVs and Autonomous vehicles, Agri-Robotics, Transport, Healthcare, Emergency Services, Disaster Response and Rural/Remote Communities.
The project is funded as part of Department of Digital, culture, Media and Sport’s Future Radio Access Network Competitions (FRANC).
The Satellite Application Catapult joined a Cellnex UK-led consortium that brings together industry-leading academics at the University of Bristol as well as industry partners AttoCore, Parallel Wireless, and Weaver Labs.