Deutsche Telekom is taking the lead on a new open RAN lab launched alongside a consortium of partners and with a funding boost from the German government.

Germany’s Ministry for Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) is kicking in EUR 17 million (around $19.7 million) to match approximately the same amount of investment from the cohort of 11 partners over the next three years.

The government is hoping to help grow and speed up an ecosystem of vendors for disaggregated network solutions in Germany and Europe.

“All interested market players have access and can collaborate and learn from each other there across the board – whether network operators, network suppliers, or new players such as startups or SMEs. In the Open Lab environment, they can research, try out, validate and develop new, innovative products and business models,” said Germany’s Federal Minister of Transport and Digital Infrastructure Andreas Scheuer. “In this way, we are strengthening Germany as an industrial and technology location and make our communications technology fit for the future.”

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Operators Telefónica Deutschland and Vodafone are part of the group, along with equipment vendor Nokia. Also on board are BISDN, Capgemini Engineering, EANTC, Fraunhofer HHI, Highstreet Technologies, Rohde & Schwarz, and TU Berlin.

The lab is dubbed i14y, which is an abbreviation standing for interoperability and one of the initiative’s main aims. Along with end-to-end integration and testing performance, the open lab ultimately wants to certify that components are ready for deployment in the market. Partners like Fraunhofer HHI and TU Berlin will contribute beyond testing, with engineering research on increasingly complex multi-vendor systems.

The open lab is up and running, located on DT’s Innovation Campus Winterfeldtstraße in Berlin.

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European operators, including the three working on the new lab as well as Orange, have shown alliance before on their commitment to implementing open RAN with an MoU signed early this year. Part of that involves making it easier for an ecosystem of different players and the technology itself to develop and mature. In this case the lab can be utilized for testing and integrating components of open and disaggregated networks for wider-scale use. It’s following the concept of a Lab-as-a-Service, so that resources are available as an API and satellite labs, operated by Telefónica and Nokia, will also be connected. The Berlin lab is considered the central site, with satellite locations in Düsseldorf and Munich.

The lab also plans to work closely with key standards-setting groups and initiatives that have given their support including the O-RAN Alliance, the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), Open Compute Project (OCP), Open Networking Foundation (ONF), and Open Network Automation Platform (ONAP).

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Here’s a run down of the consortium partners:

BISDN – focuses on network functions and wants to expand capabilities within real-time supported cloud environments.

Capgemini Engineering – is providing parts of the open testing infrastructure, such as the O-RAN software stack, along with R&D. It plans to incorporate learnings from the lab in Gapgemini’s portfolio of technology consulting and product development for next-gen networks.

EANTC (European Advanced Networking Test Center) – is a lab-as-a-service provider and is creating and implementing test methods in the lab, specifically the automated framework. EANTC will use results to build out its own 5G test service portfolio.

Fraunhofer HHI (The Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications) – a research institute that will use the project for its role in developing concepts, procedures and algorithms for network optimization, AI in communication networks and translate them to commercial industry.  

Highstreet technologies – wants to lay the basis for developing applications (rApps) and expand its xHual integration business with standards and software created in the open lab.

Nokia – the equipment vendor is aiming to develop and integrate third-party partner xApps (related to RAN intelligent controller) and user-plane applications.

Rhode & Schwarz – will collaborate with lab partners and customers to evolve its test and measurement portfolio in line with new testing requirements.

TU Berlin – The Technical University of Berlin is focused on cloud and edge computing, distributed sensor data processing, artificial intelligence, security analysis and new security concepts.

When it comes to the operators, DT expects project results to translate directly into development of DT Group’s networks. Telefónica, which is already operating live open RAN sites, also plans to incorporate findings into its network in Germany. Security testing at an independent lab was highlighted, with Telefónica saying it can help boost confidence in open RAN technology across users and decision-makers in politics and industry. 

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Vodafone, meanwhile, noted that open RAN is key for supply chain resilience and diversification. The operator opened its own R&D open RAN test lab in the U.K. in April and this summer picked vendors to deploy an open RAN system across 2,500 sites.

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