Project NAVIGATE, an endeavor under the UK’s Open Networks Ecosystem (ONE) competition, involves esteemed telecom solution providers NEC and Freshwave. They have been commissioned to create a multi-operator neutral host small cell solution, specifically designed for high traffic areas. NAVIGATE, an acronym representing Neutral host Architecture Validation Innovates Globally Applicable Telecoms Enablers, braces the UK Government’s efforts towards nurturing the Open RAN space within its £250 million 5G supply chain diversification strategy.

In addition to NAVIGATE, this diversification strategy encompasses various initiatives, including Future RAN Competition (FRANC), Future Open Networks Research Challenge, and significant entities such as the SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre (SONIC) Labs, the UK Telecoms Innovation Network, and the UK Telecoms Lab.

The emphasis of NAVIGATE is to design, scrutinize, and lay out a feasible plan for deploying open and sharable 4G and 5G capacity in High Density Deployment (HDD) environments — areas that are typically congested. Examples of such environments include city centres and sports stadiums, which frequently experience high volumes of phones attempting to connect simultaneously. NAVIGATE is backed by funding amounting to £7.42 million, with the Department for Science, Innovation, and Technology (DSIT) contributing £3.32 million. NEC and Freshwave provide the remaining funds.

NEC and Freshwave are set to construct and put to tests a small cell solution rooted in NEC’s Open vRAN software. The envisaged setup is aimed not only to serve as proof that this variety of Open RAN solution is technologically and operationally viable but is also financially viable and energy efficient as compared to legacy single RAN networks. It will strongly support the multi-operator neutral host network, facilitating further deployment of Open RAN and allowing all UK mobile operators’ networks to connect to it.

“NEC is delighted to have been selected by DSIT to provide a neutral host, Open RAN, high density demand outdoor solution,” Hideyuki Ogata, General Manager, 5G Solution Department, NEC expressed. Echoing similar enthusiasm, Tom Bennett, CTO at Freshwave stated, “We’re excited to have been successful in the Open Networks Ecosystem Competition and looking forward to collaborating with the other members of the consortium.”

Governmental assertions maintain these advancements will spur innovation in the Open RAN space, where sizable monetary resources have been committed in recent years. It paints an intriguing future, especially after the UK’s recent signing of the Global Coalition on Telecommunications (GCOT) with Australia, Canada, Japan, and the US. This may steer the UK’s strategy to onwardly stimulate the market into a more collaborative and expansive channel.