Why collaboration is key to driving investment in telecoms R&D

Universities and telecoms firms can work together to accelerate innovation

Jon Hunt

Earlier this year, the EU announced potential plans to relax restrictions on mergers and acquisitions within the telecoms sector, with the goal of supporting the development of digital infrastructure, such as 5G.

This move signals the drive towards creating a more conducive environment for innovation. Particularly, the potential plans demonstrate the importance of leveraging shared expertise and knowledge across telcos, academia and big tech, who all face challenges when it comes to innovating in a way that avoids the hype cycle and makes a tangible difference to the way we live and work. 

While the effectiveness of such a proposal by the EU is still being debated, what’s clear is that more needs to be done, industry-wide, to foster better collaboration and drive greater innovation across the telecoms sector.

Why collaboration matters

Traditionally, the different sub-sectors of telecoms have often operated in silos. As competition has increased in recent years, and tech and telco have further converged, the market has become increasingly complex, all of which can slow down the rate of innovation and even the deployment of new technologies and solutions. But of course, our sector is an interconnected one: quite simply many organisations depend on their components or solutions working with components from other organisations. It’s why standards-making is such a critical part of the telecoms ecosystem. Collaboration is part of telecoms’ DNA, but attempts to further encourage this, whether through M&As, joint ventures or partnerships, can help the sector unlock a range of benefits.

“Universities produce world-class research which can be translated into viable solutions through collaboration with established telecoms companies.”

For example, Big Tech has access to cutting-edge technology and advanced knowledge in areas like machine learning, AI and cloud computing, all of which can help to accelerate innovation cycles in telecoms. Collaborating with Big Tech can also broaden access to capital for companies of different sizes, and offer valuable market validation for R&D projects – all of which can potentially drive further investment opportunities for the wider tech and telecoms sectors. 

Collaboration between telecoms companies enables them to expand market reach and tap into new customer segments. Partnering or merging with other telecoms providers means companies can offer bundled services, reach underserved areas, or access niche markets more effectively. 

Fundamentally, collaborative efforts create an ecosystem where stakeholders from different sectors or sub-sectors within telecoms can address industry challenges and drive collective growth – an example of which is academia-industry partnerships. Universities produce world-class research which can be translated into viable solutions through collaboration with established telecoms companies. For instance, the University of Surrey’s 5G Innovation Centre has partnered with industry players such as Vodafone and Samsung to help drive innovation in 5G networks and applications.

Opportunities for collaboration

Perhaps the biggest opportunity for telecoms lies in global collaboration. Leveraging resources and tapping into diverse knowledge pools internationally, particularly in the context of technologies such as 5G and 6G, can accelerate the development of RD&I globally. 

Global co-ordination of R&D efforts also enables telecoms companies to venture into new markets and expand their reach. By partnering with organisations possessing local market knowledge or expertise in specific technologies, the telecoms sector can unlock avenues for growth and diversification beyond traditional boundaries. 

For example, by sharing its extensive academic knowledge with industry partners, the UK can position itself on the global telecoms stage, and drive greater innovation across markets.

The power of successful collaboration

Collaboration is fundamental to propelling R&D and innovation within the telecoms sector, paving the way for efficient investment and commercialisation avenues. By fostering collaboration, the telecoms sector can optimise resources, tap into specialised expertise, and accelerate innovation cycles.

Through strategic partnerships and joint ventures, telecoms companies can unlock new growth prospects, drive sustainable development, and solidify their leading position in driving technological advancements across the global telecommunications landscape. It’s what you might call a win-win.

A REASON to collaborate

The REASON project, funded with a total of £11,993,730, spans across multiple locations and boasts a rich array of partners, including, Bristol (University of Bristol – LEAD, Parallel Wireless), Southampton (University of Southampton), Reading (Thales UK), London (King’s College London, Weaver Labs, Digital Catapult, BBC, Samsung, Ericsson), Cambridge (Nokia Bell Labs), Ipswich (BT), Pulborough (Real Wireless),  Glasgow (University of Strathclyde), Belfast (Queen’s University Belfast) and South Wales (Compound Semiconductor Centre).

As well as building a strong telecoms research and development ecosystem, REASON (which stands for Realising Enabling Architectures and Solutions for Open Networks) is developing a roadmap for open 6G network architectures. It is also aiming to tackle bottlenecks of current systems, such as interoperability, agility, sustainability, resilience, and security, and position UK-born technologies as candidates for delivering future solutions and standards.

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Jon Hunt
Jon Hunt / Guest writer

Jon Hunt is a UKTIN project board member and Executive Director of Research, Enterprise and Innovation at the University of Bristol