The Compound Semiconductor Centre (CSC) and consortium partners have won £1.5m 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, known as FRANC, is the first of a number of homegrown 5G infrastructure development interventions and is funding 15 consortia in this round.

The project, which is called Scalable Optical Fronthaul for 5G OpenRAN, is being led by Rushmere Technologies, a developer of optical communications technologies, with other consortium members including BT, Aston University, and TerOpta.

“5G networks critically rely on optical fibre links to connect the radio antennae to the electronic processing base station equipment. This project will develop ground-breaking, UK-made, scalable, cost-effective optical interface technology to enable dense roll out of optical fibre 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 being used in the transceivers that are being developed by Rushmere for this project.

Fronthaul 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 Fibre To The Home (FTTH) optical fibre infrastructure.

Commenting Rushmere’s CTO, Jim Harrison said, “A critical element in being able to deploy 5G is the ability to connect radio towers with optical fibre but currently no scalable technology solution exists that is able to do so. 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.”

CSC’s Programme Manager for Photonics, Ali Anjomshoaa added, “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.”