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Government funding for research to help pave the way for 6G communications

Posted on 14 September 2023

The University of York has been awarded £3.1m funding from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to support the development of the UK’s growing 5G network and the evolution of 6G communications.

Blackpool UK views from north pierTourist hotspot Blackpool is one location for trials of new mobile technology as part of the project

The funding is part of DSIT’s Open Networks Programme: Open Networks Ecosystem Competition and brings together an exciting group of partners to find new solutions to improve the delivery of mobile phone data in densely populated areas.

Tourist hotspots drive significant volumes of mobile traffic, presenting a challenge to existing mobile technologies. This new project, REACH (RIC Enabled (CF-)mMIMO for HDD), will use the University’s experience in developing Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) solutions to deliver improved data connections in areas which regularly host high numbers of visitors.


Project partners will develop O-RAN software and hardware systems and run trials to demonstrate the new technology. One of the trials will install and use innovative infrastructure in Blackpool, supported by project partners Blackpool Council and Virgin Media O2.

The infrastructure will be deployed in the resort’s busiest areas, including the promenade and Winter Garden. It will deliver high speed connectivity and allow user demand and energy usage to be better managed, as well as allowing multiple operators to share the infrastructure.

Tourism effect

Professor David Grace, from the School of Physics, Engineering and Technology at the University of York, said Blackpool was an important location for the trial. “Mobile data needs in Blackpool are driven by large fluctuations in demand depending on the season and time of day,” he says.

“Small cells will be installed on street furniture, utilising the town’s dark fibre running the length of the promenade, enabling connection into local data centres housing the core network and distribution units. The trial will show how the system can scale to meet the wide variety of technical demands seen in this tourist hotspot.”


Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “Whether you’re in a busy city centre or a rural village, a fast and reliable mobile connection is vital to staying in touch, accessing services and doing business.

“In order to secure that, we need to embrace a diverse and secure range of technology that will underpin the network. The projects we’re backing today with £88 million in Government research and development investment will use innovative Open RAN solutions to make our mobile networks more adaptable and resilient, with future-proofed technology to support bringing lightning-fast connections across the country for many years to come.”

The University will lead work on a Radio Access Network Intelligent Controller, with testing supported by Viavi Solutions. Lab-based development of novel 6G technologies will take place in the University’s Institute for Safe Autonomy.

Other project partners include AQ Limited which will carry out trials aimed at delivering increased gigabit speed to users, and social enterprise Cybermoor leading the management of the project.  

And Professor Grace says network security will be a priority for the project. He said: “Underpinning all work will be a security framework, developed by Safenetics, which will deal holistically with security threats, including cybersecurity.”

Further information:

Project name

  • REACH - Radio Access Network Intelligent Controller Enabled (cell-free)massive Multiple Input Multiple Output for High Density Demand

Project partners

  • University of York
  • Cybermoor 5G Services Ltd
  • AQ Limited
  • Viavi Solutions Ltd
  • Virgin Media O2 UK Ltd
  • SafeNetics Ltd
  • Blackpool Council

About the ONE competition

The Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition is part of the government’s £250 million 5G Telecoms Supply Chain Diversification Strategy, fostering telecoms R&D projects including Future RAN Competition (FRANC), Future Open Networks Research Challenge, and entities like SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC Labs), UK Telecoms Innovation Network, and UK Telecoms Lab. 

ONE launched on 14 March 2023, offering organisations funding to develop software and hardware products for enhanced open and interoperable technology, including funding for demonstrations of Open RAN technologies in high-demand density environments.

The UK government’s Open RAN Principles set out the characteristics that open-interface solutions, such as Open RAN, should possess in order to deliver on the UK’s 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy’s goals for resilient and secure networks with competitive and innovative supply chains.

The UK government and UK mobile network operators have a joint ambition to carry 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic over open and interoperable RAN architectures by 2030. Read the joint statement here.

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