The first phase of the SONIC Labs programme (SONIC 1) created an independent telecoms laboratory delivered by Digital Catapult working with Ofcom. It aimed to address the lack of diversity in telecoms providers and a notable underrepresentation from UK vendors as a key provider of 5G access hardware and software on the global stage.
This initiative delivered end-to-end testing with a number of telecom equipment vendors and their products in various ways to better understand the challenges and possibilities of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN). This project was run in over 3 separate sites, with their central lab at Digital Catapult in London.
- Vendors engaged appreciated the end-to-end nature of the testing provided in the labs and the test and measurement (T&M) equipment introduced in SONIC 1 and the SONIC Labs testing regime.
- The project identified a number of areas where additional capability would be helpful, which will be addressed through the next phases of SONIC Labs.
- To ensure consistency in testing the devices, vendors benefited from both testing products with other vendors (bench-testing) as well as full end-to-end integration testing in the lab as well as their respective external environments.
- Integration and deployment of an Open RAN system at both hardware and software-level proved to be more challenging than anticipated. Obstacles included:
- carrying devices to a new environment
- specific hardware requirements, despite using commercial off the shelf (COTS) hardware, which delayed the set up of new Open RAN projects
- adjustments during integration activities were time-consuming, as the testbed was manually set up
The project is currently taking its learnings and applying them to the second phase of the SONIC Labs project (SONIC 2).
Key next steps include:
- Testing integration of products in both a lab scenario as well as an indoor and outdoor environment.
- Use a pre-integration checklist for all vendors to ensure products can be suitably matched and their interoperability capabilities are tested.
- Explore the potential economic impact of Open RAN on a number of factors, including resource requirements as well as hardware and software acquisitions.
- To continue testing vendor interoperability across a number of Open RAN trials.
- Enable and encourage innovative suppliers to participate in the UK telecoms ecosystem and provide a quicker path towards deployment in UK networks.
- Build up a bigger portfolio of mutually compatible hardware and a bigger portfolio of mutually compatible end-to-end Open RAN solutions.
More findings on the next phase of SONIC Labs will be published in due course.
Lessons learned from first vendor engagements in SONIC Labs. This report outlines the lessons learned during the first cohort of vendors.
Vendors from SONIC 1: