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vodafone's openran networking concept set to kick in.

Vodafone partners with industry giants to deliver OpenRan

Dell and Samsung are among industry leaders contributing to the first Open Radio Access Network (RAN) in Europe. Vodafone will lead the project that also features the skill and expertise of Wind River, NEC, Keysight and Capgemini. The project will be based at the Open RAN lab in Newbury as well as digital hubs in Dresden, Germany and Malaga in Spain.

Spearheaded by the O-RAN-ALLIANCE, the project allows for the disaggregation of software and hardware with virtualisation and open interfaces, running alongside cloud-based software that operates and updates networks.

What is Open RAN?

Open RAN is a networking concept that aims to addresses issues related to the limited number of network operators and the removal of Huawei from the UK's 5G platform.

It allows mobile network operators to use equipment from a number of vendors to form the critical components of a mobile network. Current RAN technology is a hardware and software based platform which Open RAN will extend.

Benefits of Open RAN technology include raising flexibility and diversifying the supply chain. Networks will deliver new capabilities and functions. For example, it would be quite easy for an operator to introduce AI functionality for specific use case optimisation like at a football match.

Vodafone CTO, Johan Wibergh, said Open RAN provides huge advantages for domestic and business customers. The new network will be automated and highly programmable, giving the company the ability to release new features simultaneously across a number of sites, resolve outages instantly and add or direct capacity. Business customers would also benefit from on-demand connectivity.

Wibergh says that Open RAN is reinvigorating the industry and has the capacity to boost the digital economy with opportunities for greater tech innovation and an extended pool of vendors. That in turn would bring much needed diversity to the supply chain.

Enhance competition

Encouraging smaller providers into the market through a mix and match approach to equipment and hardware would have a number of advantages. It would, at least in theory, enhance competition, while ending the over-reliance on technology from a handful of providers including Eriksson, Nokia and Huawei over whom security concerns still persist.

The project also has the backing of the European Commission as the EU hopes the emergence of Open RAN will bring more European companies into the market. Vodafone is working with European telecoms to use these network architectures to build a broader ecosystem.

Some 2,500 sites have been committed to Open RAN by October 2021, making this one of the biggest deployments in the world. The network will be built jointly with NEC, Wind River, Dell and Samsung.

Interoperable infrastructure

Vodafone is also seeking to use new radio equipment under the Evenstar programme with the backing of Capegemini and Keysight to ensure interoperability between components.

The big six vendors behind the Open RAN network will work together with a mission to extend rural broadband across Wales and the Southwest of England. Once 4G and 5G are embedded, they'll switch focus to urban areas later in the programme.

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