29 March 2022
UK government funding for connecting 5G radio towers with optical fiber
Together with consortium partners, the Compound Semiconductor Centre Ltd (CSC, a joint venture founded in 2015 between Cardiff University and epiwafer foundry and substrate maker IQE plc of Cardiff, Wales, UK) has won £1.5m in funding from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) as part of the UK’s efforts to develop homegrown telecoms technology and diversify 5G and future-generation networks.
The DCMS ‘Future Random Access Networks Competition’ (FRANC) is the first of a number of homegrown 5G infrastructure development interventions, and funds 15 consortia in this round.
The project ‘Scalable Optical Fronthaul for 5G OpenRAN’ is led by Rushmere Technologies Ltd of Ipswich, UK (which was founded in 2012 and develops optoelectronic devices, primarily for the telecoms industry, using in-house design, build and test capabilities). Other consortium members include BT, Aston University, and TerOpta Ltd.
“5G networks critically rely on optical fiber links to connect the radio antennae to the electronic processing base-station equipment,” notes CSC. “This project will develop ground-breaking, UK-made, scalable, cost-effective optical interface technology to enable dense roll out of optical fiber 5G radio access networks (RANs) with open digital interfaces for interoperability and low latency.”
CSC’s role is in the development of custom epitaxial wafer materials for the laser devices in the novel transceivers designed by Rushmere for the project.
Front-haul optical transceivers will allow reliable, high-speed optical links between multiple 5G masts and a single hub, for example. This removes the need for individual network hubs located at each mast. The technology can also be used to deliver high-speed Internet directly to the premises through fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) optical fiber infrastructure.
“A critical element in being able to deploy 5G is the ability to connect radio towers with optical fiber, but currently no scalable technology solution exists that is able to do so,” says Rushmere’s chief technology officer Jim Harrison. “This project will enable us to develop a world-leading, scalable, cost effective ‘UK-made’ product whilst re-building the UK’s capability in the telecom equipment market and ensuring national security of the network in the future,” he believes.
“This project will establish the homegrown UK photonics supply chain required for the UK to secure its telecoms and network communications infrastructure and protect our infrastructure from global supply chain events, such as global chip shortages due to the COVID pandemic, and also to ensure that the UK has its own sovereign capability,” says CSC’s program manager for photonics Ali Anjomshoaa.