Vodafone has announced the latest step in its open radio access network (Open RAN) development strategy with live deployments on masts delivering coverage in urban parts of south-west England, which it claims is the first example in Europe of the technology being deployed in a live urban environment.
The mobile network operator sees many advantages in Open RAN, one being that it helps to separate the hardware and software components of the network to select optimal solution providers for specific roles, rather than proprietary end-to-end solutions on which most RAN technologies are built. This means it can tie operators to a small number of suppliers.
Vodafone says deploying Open RAN in an urban location demonstrates the technology is a viable alternative to traditional RAN in all scenarios, not just in rural locations. And with interoperability embedded at the foundation, Open RAN is seen as a driver of innovation, enabling the telco to work with businesses outside the traditional telecommunications ecosystem.
Open RAN is also seen by Vodafone as a catalyst in the RAN domain to evolve to become an organisation offering a software-defined and virtualised network with autonomous operation utilising artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). It is also a critical component of the Vodafone network strategy, diversifying the supply chain, enhancing resilience, and acting as a catalyst for innovation and competition.
In April 2021, Vodafone opened an Open RAN test and integration lab at its Newbury technology campus in the UK. The facility was set up to provide a state-of-the-art capability not only for itself, but also Open RAN suppliers and partners, to test, validate and prove platforms prior to commercial deployment, as well as provide an environment to nurture the advancement of a still-developing ecosystem.
In February 2022, Vodafone committed to deploying Open RAN on 30% of mobile sites across its European network by 2030. More recently, Vodafone began Open RAN trials in Germany and signed a memorandum of understanding with NTT Docomo. A partnership has also been signed with Nokia to jointly develop a fully Open RAN-compliant solution that incorporates the Nokia ReefShark system on a chip (SoC).
The Open RAN technology has been installed on 16 Vodafone mobile masts, providing connectivity to customers in Exmouth and Torquay. The project will take place over the next few months. The deployment has been made possible through partnerships with Dell, Intel, Samsung, Wind River and Capgemini.
Vodafone has been working alongside the industry to advance Open RAN technology, including through its two Open RAN research and development centres in Newbury and Malaga. This has enabled deployments in more complex environments, such as urban locations and transport hubs.
“Vodafone was one of the first companies worldwide to commit to Open RAN at scale. The potential of Open RAN is huge and clear to see,” said Vodafone UK chief network officer Andrea Dona. “But to realise this potential, we need to deploy the technology out in the live network and take it from rural to urban locations. This is what we have now done – taking lab innovations into the real world and an essential step forward for the health and resilience of our industry.”