In a move that it hopes will spark other large-scale launches of its type and spearhead the next wave of digital transformation across Europe, UK operator Vodafone has revealed the strategic technology suppliers it will work with to deliver the first commercial deployment of Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) in Europe.
Vodafone and its partners – Dell, NEC, Samsung Electronics, Wind River, Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies – believe Open RAN will drive greater innovation through a diverse and open supplier ecosystem, leading to a more cost-effective, secure, energy-efficient and customer-focused network of the future.
The operator said that with the political and industrial policy support from the European Commission and the national governments of the European Union (EU), Open RAN has the potential to bring more European companies into this emerging market. Vodafone and the other major EU telco signatories of its new Open RAN memorandum of understanding believe this will help build a European ecosystem around these novel network architectures and boost the EU’s global technology leadership in digital infrastructure.
It will also help the operator deal with the fallout from the July 2020 decision by the UK government to remove Huawei technology from the country’s growing 5G communications infrastructure, announcing that it would commit to a timetable for the removal of Huawei equipment from the 5G network by 2027.
As the ban was being made, and as it implored operators to seek more diversity in technology procurement, the UK government conceded there were huge cost implications of the decision. In early 2020, Vodafone calculated that it would cost as much as €200m over the next five years to remove the Huawei equipment that existed already in its core networks across Europe.
Under the new initiative, Samsung will be a reference RAN software provider working with NEC to supply Massive MIMO mobile antenna capacity-boosting technology and will also work with Evenstar for radio units, which establish a signal between users’ smartphones or devices and the mobile mast. Evenstar radios are part of a joint effort between Facebook and Vodafone to create “white box” radio units within the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and are considered a key component for Open RAN roll-out.
The initial deployments will be implemented using COTS Dell EMC PowerEdge servers to support the combined DU/CU function running containers-as-a-service (CaaS) software from Wind River Studio, which will provide a distributed cloud-native platform hosting the Open RAN applications and virtualised RAN from Samsung. This is intended to enable Vodafone to mix and match and install new software releases and upgrades more easily.
Read more about Vodafone and Open RAN
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Going forward, Vodafone said its initial focus would be on the 2,500 sites in the UK that it had committed to Open RAN in October 2020. As its work progresses, Vodafone said it would work with the suppliers to extend 4G and 5G coverage to more rural places across the southwest of England and most of Wales, moving into urban areas in a later phase.
The deployment is claimed to be one of the largest in the world and will be built jointly with Dell, NEC, Samsung and Wind River. Vodafone also expects to use new radio equipment defined under the Evenstar programme, a joint initiative to which it contributes. Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies are providing support to ensure interoperability between all the components. Vodafone is also working to launch Open RAN in other countries within Europe and Africa, enabling “the digital society to be accessible to all, with no one left behind”, it said.
“Open RAN provides huge advantages for customers,” said Vodafone chief technology officer Johan Wibergh. “Our network will become highly programmable and automated, meaning we can release new features simultaneously across multiple sites, add or direct capacity more quickly, resolve outages instantly and provide businesses with on-demand connectivity.
“Open RAN is also reinvigorating our industry. It will boost the digital economy by stimulating greater tech innovation from a wider pool of vendors, bringing much needed diversity to the supply chain.”