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NTT DoCoMo, Vodafone team to drive Open RAN system integration, efficiency

UK and Japanese operators agree to cooperate to bring the benefits of open radio access networks to a wider operator and supplier community, exchanging their respective expertise and technologies

With key executives from each company making the opening keynotes at the FYUZ Open RAN event from the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Group, telcos Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo are now sharing more than their respective beliefs on the direction of software-based radio access networks and have signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to cooperate towards harmonising mobile operator system integration and test processes.

The cooperation will drive greater interoperability between different supplier systems worldwide, giving customers a seamless service across 4G and 5G Open RAN networks no matter where they live, work or travel. The telcos see smaller suppliers and startups as particularly being able to benefit by avoiding costly duplicate testing with multiple operators, strengthening diversity in the global supply chain.

Areas included in the MoU include testing criteria and experiences to create common test scripts – a series of software instructions needed to conduct a test. The companies believe that a uniform approach to testing will mean that suppliers can avoid repetition when dealing with multiple operators, saving them time, capital outlays and resources, also making sure the industry delivers, no matter the region, secure-by-design, high-quality products as defined by the industry bodies 3GPP and the O-RAN Alliance.

The cooperation will be performed by exchanging the respective expertise and technologies between the parties.

The two companies also aim to maximise the benefits of the Service Management Orchestrator – a component of the Open RAN Network Operation Support System – and the RAN Intelligent Controller platform (SMO/RIC). They intend to identify the key features of SMO/RIC, determine their likely evolution and define the underlying software architecture.

Vodafone and DoCoMo also plan to cooperate to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators by enhancing the efficiency of RAN technologies, integration processes, artificial intelligence/machine learning and automation techniques, with a view to publishing a whitepaper.

The two companies have also agreed to look to remotely connect their lab capabilities, which will complement their existing Open RAN R&D centres in the UK (Vodafone, Newbury) and Japan (DoCoMo’s Shared Open Lab, Yokosuka). These labs are based on a distributed testing operating model that is distinct from the current single supplier-centric approach in use today.

Instead of each vendor setting up its own centralised lab for all parts of a mobile base station, the firms believe that Open RAN development requires a coordinated network of labs – each being responsible for part of the radio infrastructure, such as the radio unit or the software. Vodafone's calculations, published earlier this year, show that cost savings of up to 40% can be achieved for the industry when moving to a distributed system integration lab network.

“The collective R&D power of Vodafone and DoCoMo will lower the entry barrier for many more companies across Europe and Asia wishing to build Open RAN networks,” said Vodafone chief technology officer Johan Wibergh. “Rather than fragmenting the industry, Open RAN is bringing us together, across continents, to drive diversification of network equipment vendors and ensure greater systems integration.”

Naoki Tani, chief technology officer of NTT DoCoMo, said: “We look forward to combining Vodafone's R&D and thought leadership in Open RAN system integration and DoCoMo’s experience in deploying a multi-vendor 5G Open RAN commercial service in Japan. Our collaboration will help to accelerate the broad commercial adoption of Open RAN and realise a vibrant RAN ecosystem for 5G and beyond.”

Going forward, DoCoMo and Vodafone will explore other areas of potential collaboration to further build foundations for a thriving ecosystem and an improved customer experience.

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