5G testing lab to cut reliance on handful of multinational firms is launched

A new high-tech 5G lab designed to make the UK less reliant on a small number of multinational suppliers has launched, as the Government attempts to fill the void left by Huawei.

The Sonic Labs facility, based in London and Brighton, will aim to accelerate the development of 5G communication kit that is interoperable with components made by others to prevent over-reliance on one firm.

It comes after the Government ordered operators in the UK to strip their networks of Huawei-made 5G equipment by 2027 over security concerns, following US sanctions restricting Huawei’s ability to build chips.

With only a handful of suppliers in the market, the Government’s 5G diversification strategy pushes for the adoption of Open RAN, a network architecture that allows operators to use parts from multiple vendors that are able to work together.

“I’m thrilled that Sonic Labs is opening its doors to the wealth of telecoms expertise we have in this country to explore new ways of building 5G networks,” Digital Infrastructure Minister Matt Warman is expected to say at a virtual launch.

“Our investment is a crucial element of our strategy to tackle the world’s over-reliance on a small number of telecoms vendors by growing our own cutting-edge solutions at home.

“I look forward to seeing how the lab will help deliver the incredible social and economic benefits of new technology for people around the UK.”

Mr Warman is also set to use his opening speech to announce a long-term strategy for 5G and future wireless networks in the UK.

The lab is run by regulator Ofcom and tech innovation agency Digital Catapult, which has received £1 million in Government support to carry out real-world testing.

Dame Melanie Dawes, Ofcom chief executive, said: “Sonic Labs is an exciting project that gives us the opportunity to explore how new telecoms technology could operate in the UK market.

“It’s all about bringing innovation to our communications networks – helping to support fast, secure and reliable connections for the future.

“A number of companies are already getting involved and we look forward to more joining too.”