Arqit: Accelerating 5G Open-RAN to meet the UK’s future communications needs to develop new telecoms networks for the UK

June 19, 2023

A new, cutting-edge technology that will allow industries to deploy their own private, flexible, and secure 5G networks across their business areas is being developed by a consortium of companies from the UK.

The Secure 5G project is building a flexible platform that will enable companies to roll out and maintain their own quantum-safe private networks, with targeted applications for Industry 4.0, mobile edge computing (MEC), the Internet of Things (IoT) and highly secure environments, such as defence. The aim of Secure 5G is to reduce costs, while accelerating the pace of innovation, enabling faster roll-out of services and more secure communications via a UK sovereign supply chain.

The project, funded through the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, involves a team from Compound Semiconductor Applications (CSA) Catapult, Lime Microsystems Ltd, Slipstream Engineering Design Ltd and Arqit.

Open radio access networks (RAN) resulting from the project are providing a more open and accessible 5G network architecture, improving competition, network flexibility and reducing costs.

More and more network operators and enterprises are choosing to deploy Open RAN 5G networks as it prevents being locked in to using large vendors who currently offer highly proprietary solutions, whilst at the same time diversifying the supply chain and enabling more innovative and integrated technologies.

As Open RAN mobile networks become more prevalent, larger, more complex there is a need for solutions that are inherently more secure, while offering a level of flexibility which enables them to adapt to emerging threats with far greater agility.

The platform developed through the Secure 5G project brings together a radio frequency (RF) power amplifier (Slipstream Engineering Design) with open-source network-in-a-box solution (Lime Microsystems), underpinned by a quantum-safe symmetric key agreement platform (Arqit) and state-of-the-art test and evaluation support (CSA Catapult).

Secure 5G aims to bring many suppliers into the Open RAN ecosystem, diversifying and democratising 5G deployment using cost effective, programmable radio modules. The project also aims to empower network owners with the flexibility to maintain and upgrade services by running their applications at the very edge of the network, which could be anything from secure on-premises file sharing through to low latency machine learning.

The flexibility and reconstruction of the system, coupled with processing power that is powerful enough to run resource intensive apps, will allow for further developments in hardware and services by the wider UK telecoms supply chain.

The project will finish in June 2023 with the aim of commercialising the technology shortly afterwards.

Minister for Data and Digital Infrastructure, Sir John Whittingdale, said: “Harnessing the UK’s innovation and technological expertise will deliver the world-leading digital infrastructure that is so fundamental to growing our economy. The Secure 5G project will pave the way for more secure and competitive telecoms networks in the UK, benefiting industries across the board.

“This cutting-edge technology will accelerate that process while cutting business costs, boosting communications security, and supporting UK supply chains.” Dr Ebrahim Bushehri, Lime Microsystems CEO, commented:

“With the frequency bands allocated for mobile private networks (MPNs) varying from country to country, we see a significant opportunity for software-defined radios (SDR) and wideband PA technologies for frequency agile Radio Access Networks, which is at the heart of Secure 5G. The use of general-purpose processor (GPP) plus commodity Linux O/S platform meanwhile, has accelerated the integration of cutting-edge quantum-safe cryptography, providing an ideal solution for MPN deployments worldwide.”

Dr Mike Roberts, Technical Director and Co-founder of Slipstream Engineering Design said: “Slipstream Design has been delighted to secure funding as part of this consortium to support our research and development activity in the telecommunications sector. As an SME it was a major boost and allowed us to conduct highly innovative 5G product development with the backing of government. Power efficient, wideband operation is an area that constrains the flexibility of current telecommunication hardware. We aim to break through this technology barrier to enable wider network coverage in a more efficient and agile way.”

Sarah Gregory, Commercial Director of Slipstream Engineering Design said: “We have felt privileged to work alongside the other consortium members as well as DCMS in a truly collaborative project. The resulting wideband power amplifier technology developed by Slipstream Design has the potential to optimise radio unit hardware, reducing the need for variants in a way that speaks to the sustainability aims of the telecommunications sector.”

David Williams, Arqit Founder, Chairman and CEO said: “Arqit recently Co-authored the GSMA whitepaper on post quantum security and we are pleased to deploy our unique symmetric key agreement platform into this 5G project. Technology models for 5G and IoT are evolving rapidly but the edge cannot be secure without a new approach to encryption. Arqit delivers that.”

Nick Singh, Chief Technology Officer at CSA Catapult, said: “We were very pleased to participate in the Secure 5G project. Secure 5G will accelerate the pace of innovation and further enable secure communications via a UK sovereign supply chain. The technology developed by the consortium will accelerate Open-RAN through a powerful, secure and scalable 5G solution to meet the UK’s future communications needs. CSA Catapult’s role in the project was to provide state-of-the-art test and evaluation support. We look forward to seeing the commercialisation of this technology and the impact it makes to the wider UK telecoms supply chain.”

About Arqit

Arqit supplies a unique quantum safe encryption Platform-as-a-Service which makes the communications links or data at rest of any networked device or cloud machine secure against current and future forms of attack – even from a quantum computer. Arqit’s product, QuantumCloud™, enables any device to download a lightweight software agent, which can create encryption keys in partnership with any number of other devices. The keys are computationally secure, optionally one-time use and zero trust.  QuantumCloud™ can create limitless volumes of keys in limitless group sizes and can regulate the secure entrance and exit of a device in a group. The addressable market for QuantumCloud™ is every connected device.  Arqit was recently awarded the Innovation in Cyber award at the UK National Cyber Awards and Cyber Security Software Company of the Year Award at the UK Cyber Security Awards.

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