Vodafone accelerates pace of Open RAN development

UK operator accelerates its plan to support the development of Open RAN systems, working with electronic firms in the US and Asia, and has announced plans for a 5G Open RAN commercial pilot in Germany

Vodafone is ramping up its commitment to Open RAN, announcing a co-development project with Samsung, a 5G Open RAN infrastructure test and development programme with Qualcomm, and plans to conduct a commercial pilot of 5G Open RAN at mobile sites across two rural areas of Germany.

With Samsung Electronics, Vodafone is jointly cooperating with Marvell Technology, a provider of data infrastructure semiconductor systems, to accelerate the adoption of Open RAN across Europe, and support its vision of openness and diversification in its network expansion. In addition to Open RAN’s unique multi-supplier benefits, Vodafone sees the move as also potentially improving the performance of future networks to even outperform existing single-supplier radio networks.

The Marvell chipset – called the OCTEON Fusion processor – works by taking on the heavy lifting calculations of the standard central processing unit (CPU) in existing virtualised mobile networks. The specialised silicon chips, commonly known as accelerators, can be tailored for radio networks, and can help to handle the vast capacity demands in densely populated urban areas with enormous volumes of mobile traffic, as opposed to solely relying on a general purpose processor (GPP).

Accelerators can deliver Massive MIMO – the technology developed to serve many customers in dense urban areas such as shopping centres, sports arenas and business parks. This “acceleration” in the distributed unit (DU) of the Open RAN architecture enhances the overall speed and reliability of any Open RAN mobile site.

Combined with Samsung’s virtualised RAN software, it can speed up the data processing required for a wide array of complex radio network functions, enabling the Open RAN system to deliver features, security and performance that Vodafone says will be on par with traditional mobile radio networks, with further improvements to follow. This can also improve the energy efficiency of mobile sites by reducing the number of CPU cores required.

Vodafone also believes that by incorporating Marvell’s advanced system-on-a-chip (SoC) technology, specifically adapted for Open RAN, into the latest standard commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers, smartphone users are given a fast and reliable 5G connection using new open architecture. 

The partnership also builds on Samsung and Vodafone’s previously announced 5G Open RAN network collaboration, which included the operator’s launch of the first 5G Open RAN site in the UK in January 2022 and used Samsung’s vRAN technology for carrying live customer traffic.

With Qualcomm, Vodafone aims to develop, test and integrate next-generation 5G DUs and radio unit (RU) with Massive MIMO capabilities, ultimately to deliver the commercial deployment of Open RAN in Europe. This joint announcement builds on the companies’ commitment in April 2021 to develop technical blueprints that will help equipment suppliers build 5G networks of the future using Open RAN technology.

The firms are developing 5G Open RAN infrastructure systems powered by the Qualcomm X100 5G RAN accelerator card and the high-performance Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN platform. These are expected to offer what the partners describe as “breakthrough” power consumption performance to reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) and make networks environmentally sustainable and address demands of next-generation networks with Massive MIMO with 64T64R and 32T32R capabilities needed for high-capacity dense urban scenarios.

Germany is Vodafone’s largest European market and starting in early 2023, Vodafone will roll out the first deployment of Open RAN technology in the country that is fully compliant with the specifications endorsed by the Open RAN MoU group of the Telecoms Infra Project (TIP). 

Following successful field tests earlier this year in Plauen, Germany, Vodafone says that it is is now ready to take the next step in supporting the German government’s ambition to grow the Open RAN ecosystem. Vodafone’s Open RAN pilot, using software and radio equipment from Samsung, will take place in the German states of South East Bavaria and North East Lower Saxony and marks the beginning of a wider roll-out in Germany over the next two to three years.

This is a key stage in Vodafone’s plan to equip 30% of all its European sites with Open RAN by 2030.

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