Vodafone-led consortium unveils 5G first multi-supplier RAN intelligent controller implementation

Operator declares success of technical trial investigating how building a cost-effective O-RAN ecosystem can benefit mobile network users

Vodafone, Cohere Technologies, VMware, Capgemini Engineering, Intel and Telecom Infra Project (TIP) have announced they have made the first successful demonstration of 5G multi-user MIMO (MU-MIMO) technology on a multi-supplier open radio access network (O-RAN) platform to further boost the capacity of 5G where multiple customers are using the same site.

There has recently been a massive push into O-RAN since various governments banned the use of communications technology from Huawei from operators’ networks. With O-RAN, mobile base stations can be built using hardware and software from multiple suppliers, rather than just one or two. Driven by software, it means it is easier and cheaper to extend mobile networks and carry out upgrades without replacing hardware. 

O-RAN splits or separates the radio functions of a mobile mast, which means the hardware that manages the radio functions at the cell site can be reduced. At the same time, open application programming interfaces (APIs) will facilitate the integration of third-party applications allowing a diverse set of suppliers to contribute with new products and services.

The collaboration between Vodafone, Cohere, VMware, Capgemini, Intel and the recently announced TIP is also said to represent a key milestone in demonstrating the potential of the RAN intelligent controller (RIC) that sits at the heart of an O-RAN installation. The RIC architecture, which is standardised by the O-RAN Alliance, is fundamental in creating an open framework designed to further improve the cost-effectiveness of O-RAN, as well as expanding supply chain diversity and promoting innovation.

The new system tested by the companies is said to be able to reduce the need for expensive and energy-consuming hardware within a mobile base station by up to one-third. It also supports new advanced radio applications that are designed for use in critical business and consumer applications.

In their test laboratory, they increased the capacity of a 5G cell site two-fold using a programmable, artificial intelligence (AI)-based RIC supporting a mix of O-RAN components from multiple suppliers. The MU-MIMO technology apportioned bandwidth to individual users connected to the same mobile site and is considered the pivotal technique to boost cell capacity in future 5G networks.

Vodafone says it is a major development in supporting the insatiable demand for faster and more responsive digital connections to deliver high-definition graphics, virtual reality, cloud and IT applications.

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Based on the performance of Cohere’s Spectrum Multiplier MU-MIMO scheduler in the trial, when the technique is commercially deployed in a low-band (700MHz) network, users will benefit from up to 2x the capacity achieved using traditional MIMO. This software can be extended to Massive MIMO in mid-band (such as 3.5GHz) 5G networks in order to push capacity gains towards 4-5x.

“We are pleased to work with Vodafone and ecosystem partners to demonstrate the power of our Spectrum Multiplier software with MU-MIMO,” said Cohere CEO and chairman Ray Dolan. “It shows how the functionalities held remotely can provide mobile network providers with the flexibility to keep network intelligence localised at the tower, or hosted at the edge datacentre, while improving spectrum assets.”

The new development comes after Vodafone announced a series of developments in the field of O-RAN in April 2021. Days after opening an O-RAN test and integration lab at its technology campus in the UK, Vodafone and Qualcomm Technologies announced plans to join forces to develop a technical blueprint for more equipment suppliers to help build the 5G networks of the future, using O-RAN technology.

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