U.K. makes lukewarm commitments for open RAN and 2G, 3G shutdown

This week the U.K. government set a modest goal for open radio access network (RAN) deployments and committed a relatively modest amount of funding for the technology. It said that it would like 35% of the U.K.’s mobile network traffic to be carried over open RAN architectures by 2030. 

The announcement from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport said, “We welcome the forward steps taken by operators and suppliers to position the U.K. as a leader in the development of open and interoperable RAN technology - and the government has committed £250m ($331 million) of investment to support and accelerate this program of work.”

But it acknowledged that operators already have their hands pretty full.

It noted that recent decisions the government has made around replacing the telecom equipment of high-risk vendors (Huawei and ZTE) and the introduction of the Telecommunications Security Act are taking work by operators to implement.

RELATED: U.K. sets timeline for Huawei ban, embraces open RAN

It also noted that mobile operators are introducing 5G and working to extend coverage to the most rural parts of the U.K. 

“Therefore, this ambition [open RAN] is not a mandate, and instead realizing it will require partnership and collaboration between government, mobile operators and the wider telecoms industry,” wrote the agency.

It said it’s working jointly with U.K. mobile operators to invest in research and development for the adoption of open RAN and that it would seek international partnerships to garner learnings from across the global supply chain.

The U.K.’s announcement follows on the heels of some interest in open RAN, coming out of the EU. Last month, five major telecom operators in Europe issued a joint statement along with a report, calling on EU countries to make open RAN technology an urgent priority. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Telecom Italia (TIM), Telefónica and Vodafone made several recommendations for building an Open RAN ecosystem for Europe.

RELATED: 5 major European telcos urge fast action on Open RAN

Sunsetting 2G and 3G networks

Finally, the U.K. agency’s announcement said the government has worked with industry to establish a date by which all public 2G and 3G networks will have been switched off.

And that date is pretty far off. 

“The mobile network operators have confirmed that they do not intend to offer 2G and 3G mobile networks past 2033 at the latest,” it said. “We welcome that some individual operators will switch off their networks, particularly their 3G networks, earlier than this date, and will announce their own plans about when and how they intend to do this."

Switching off 2G and 3G will free up spectrum for 5G and later generations of mobile technology. But the far-off 2033 date is an indication that much of U.K. networks won’t be ready for open RAN technologies for quite some time. The O-RAN Alliance doesn’t even consider 2G and 3G for its open RAN specifications.