Julia Lopez – 2021 Statement on Telecoms Diversification

The statement made by Julia Lopez, the Minister for Media, Data and Digital Infrastructure, in the House of Commons on 8 December 2021.

I would like to update the House on a package of measures and policy interventions we are announcing today to progress the Government’s 5G diversification strategy and the recommendations of the telecoms supply chain diversification taskforce.

Following a 5G diversification taskforce recommendation, the Government have worked closely with industry to confirm a date by which 2G and 3G networks will be switched off. The Government can now confirm that the mobile network operators do not intend to offer 2G and 3G mobile networks past 2033 at the latest. The Government 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. The Government welcome the responsible switching off of these networks, and will continue to work with network operators to ensure a smooth transition that meets the needs of business users and consumers, including vulnerable groups.

The Government are also announcing, together with UK mobile network operators, a joint ambition for 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic to be carried over open and interoperable radio access network (RAN) architectures by 2030. The RAN is the part of the network that communicates directly with our devices, typically visible in the radio masts we see across the UK. Most networks today are characterised by closed “black boxes” in which all of the components are highly integrated and provided by a single, highly scaled vendor. “Opening” the RAN seeks to disaggregate these components and functions, lowering barriers to entry and promoting innovation. The Government welcome the steps taken by operators and suppliers to position the UK as a leader in the development of open and interoperable RAN technology and are pleased to commit £250 million of investment to support and accelerate this programme of work.

As part of this work to promote interoperable RAN, the Government will be providing just over £36 million of investment to fund projects that span key technology challenges to Open RAN adoption as part of the Future RAN Competition (FRANC). This investment will also support industry, academia and local authorities across the UK to realise the benefits of high-speed networks and create new commercial opportunities. Finally, the Government are investing a further £15 million in the SmartRAN Open Networks Interoperability Centre (SONIC Labs) to expand it into a fully-fledged interoperability testing facility that will break down barriers and support industry in developing interoperable solutions. This investment will enable the lab to expand its programme of interoperability testing and international engagement. These projects will be subject to final grant funding agreement.

The interventions demonstrate the Government’s commitment to delivering their diversification strategy and building lasting and sustainable supply for the infrastructure that underpins our entire digital economy. The Government will continue to update the House as this work progresses. Full details of the announcement will be published on www.gov.uk today.