The tech scene is brimming with innovative startups; big telecoms is experiencing some exciting developments in open and disaggregated networks. 

As an industry scales to meet the demand created by its own success, it tends to rely more on standardisation and predictability. The pace of innovation slows. Change is harder to achieve. So, it’s vital to find, test and adopt emerging technologies. New energy and new ideas are needed to adapt to the demands of a changing world. And telecoms is no different.

Over the next decade, we must find ways of sustainably connecting more and more devices.We must also help the sector secure the dramatic reduction in atmospheric carbon required as we join the race to Net Zero. 

Last week we saw the first virtual blended Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona after the pandemic and the tier one operators are all focusing on Open Ran (Radio Access Networks), 5G enablement and the virtualisation/cloudification of the telecommunications network.

MWC is an annual trade show organised by the GSMA dedicated to mobile communications industry and has been running for over 30 years, and 4 Years From Now (4YFN) is the startup arm of MWC.

Vodafone’s CTO, Johan Wilbergh, shared their latest technology innovations with a focus on an API Catalogue to enable developers to use intelligence in their networks to create drone applications, Network as a Platform (NaaP). 5G applications, with a highlight on Europe’s first 5G hospital campus in partnership with Düsseldorf University.

Facebook Connectivity is driving toward an open internet ecosystem to help tackle the digital divide by promoting shared network infrastructure at scale to accelerate broadband connectivity. The emergence of digital economies and demand for internet services means the telecom industry needs to build and scale networks that are larger and more efficient than ever before.

Deutsche Telekom has announced their collaboration with Maviner in a 5G Open Ran massive MIMO (Multiple ins, multiple outs) deployment as part of their “O-Ran Town”. Deutsche Telekom is a strong, highly active advocate of Open RAN, a founding member of the O-RAN ALLIANCE and one of the major operators who signed an Open RAN MOU earlier this year to prioritise deployments and foster greater investment in Open RAN technologies.

Working alongside the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) on Open Ran with leading operators, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, Vodafone & TIM to roll out Open Ran as the technology of choice for future European mobile networks. In June 2021 TIP has published the group’s Technical Priorities Document.

Supporting startups & the future of telecomms

The Telecom Infra Project’s telecoms ecosystem accelerator centres (TEACs) are focused entirely on supporting ambitious startups to bring new ideas to the sector, to compete effectively and enable them to drive the change we must see. As global head, my role is to enable a network of TEACs that encourage the effective development of emerging technologies.

The TEAC programme is exciting because it is totally focused on future telecoms networks. It partners with UK and international startups working on everything network-related from Open RAN and virtualisation to mobile edge computing, the cloudification of networks and massive MIMO. Each cohort gets to work with the likes of BT in the UK

The TEAC programme provides a fresher, faster, more open approach to innovation. Companies like Accelleran, a provider of energy-efficient intelligent controllers for self-automating small cell environments, have gone on to raise funds and join the 5G test bed trials managed between Digital Catapult Sonic Labs and Ofcom. Zeetta, a leading Bristol based provider of open networking and integrated 5G/wi-fi networks for businesses were also one of the first UK TEAC companies in 2018 with BT.

Now it leads the 5G-ENCODE Project, a £9 million collaboration aiming to develop clear business cases and value propositions for 5G applications in the manufacturing industry. The project, partially funded by the UK’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, as part of their 5G trials programme. 5G-ENCODE is one of the Government’s biggest investments in 5G for manufacturing.

Staying closer to our home, Bristol based KETS Quantum, also one of the first TEAC alumni raises £3.1million to enable global expansion. The day is approaching when quantum computers will be able to crack all the existing encryption that protects our data. KETS are bringing quantum-safe chip-based encryption development kits to market to begin guarding critical data from quantum computer attacks, critical to the virtualisation of the networks.

As interest in open and disaggregated networks continues to build, with the UK’s 5G Diversification Strategy the opportunity for startups support startups with innovative, yet scalable, products to drive a more dynamic telecoms ecosystem is prime. There is huge potential, with the arrival of 5G, for UK and international startups to find the right opportunities.

The UK 5G ecosystem is flourishing, not only helping improve communication but also health and wellbeing.

Society depends on connectivity and the benefits of more advanced communications technologies are wide ranging and the impact on society and the economy will be immense.

Now is the time to invest and scale digital innovations like these to help societies after the pandemic. For this to happen, governments and industry need to work together, prioritise investment in growth areas and improve digital skills training.

It’s not immediately clear what the future will look like, but together we can create a much better and interconnected society where everyone benefits.


Marina Traversari, Global Head of Startups at Telecom Infra Project – Marina has extensive experience in fast paced environments, navigating corporate clients and cross managing projects between waterfall and agile teams. She was the first point of contact for recruiting and making investment decisions for Oracle Corp here in the UK startup ecosystem for two years, which identified technology startups/entrepreneurs with fast growth potential.

Helping businesses with the best ideas gain market share and generate economic impact and creating the right connections are skills that she has honed.

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.