BT and Nokia trial Open RAN in UK

Partners will develop and deploy test of open radio access network system to enhance mobile broadband experience

The UK’s mobile industry has hit the accelerator in open radio access network (Open RAN) in recent weeks, and just days after Vodafone announced the country’s first 5G Open RAN site, BT has shown its commitment to the development and deployment of Open RAN technology by announcing details of a trial with Nokia in the city of Hull.

BT said it is committed to sustained investment in all technologies that deliver the best possible customer experience, including using open architecture wherever network performance can be enhanced. It is therefore developing Open RAN, with its supplier partners, to ensure it becomes a viable, mature, scale option for network optimisation as soon as possible.

As part of the new project, BT will install Nokia’s RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) for Open RAN, across a number of sites, to optimise network performance for customers of its EE mobile network.

“Our Open RAN trial with Nokia is one of many investments we are making to boost the performance of our market-leading 4G and 5G EE network and deliver an even better service to our customers,” said BT chief architect Neil McRae. “Our high-performance, high-efficiency radio access equipment, provided by the major global vendors, has enabled us to roll out 4G and now 5G at scale with the confidence that our customers will get the best network experience possible.”

EE has launched 5G across hundreds of towns and cities in the UK, aiming to offer faster speeds, a more reliable service and near-instant connections to content. The UK mobile performance in review 1H 2021 report from RootMetrics listed EE as the standout UK operator as 5G proliferates across the country, retaining its position as the mobile network operator (MNO) to beat across all levels of testing.

EE’s 5G network is on track to cover more than half of the UK population by 2023, four years ahead of current government ambitions, said the operator, adding that it will deliver 5G connectivity solutions anywhere in the UK by 2028 and will complete the country’s only fully converged network by the mid-2020s.

Mark Atkinson, SVP, radio access networks PLM at Nokia, added: “We are delighted to deepen our partnership with BT with this trial. Nokia is investing in Open RAN capabilities to enable a robust telecom ecosystem with strong network performance and security. An open and programmable RAN enables many new advanced capabilities to be introduced that can automatically optimise the 5G network. I look forward to seeing how this project develops.”

In addition to its trial with Nokia, BT announced that it will open a dedicated Open RAN Innovation Centre at its Adastral Park facility later this year. This will provide opportunities for large and small suppliers to develop and prove their equipment and provide a platform for open architecture progress across all network elements. 

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