Orange and Vodafone work together to develop Open RAN sharing in rural Europe

Open comms technology is being tested in Romania to provide real-life experience of operational model based on integration of multi-supplier hardware and software, paving the way for wider-scale deployments

Hot on the heels of joining a consortium of leading European operators showing how they are addressing questions and challenges raised by experts and decision-makers regarding open radio access networks (Open RAN), in particular how they will scale outwards, Orange and Vodafone have committed to Open RAN sharing in rural parts of Europe.

The operators believe the announcement reinforces their respective commitment to roll out Open RAN as the technology of choice for future mobile networks across Europe, leading to a more resilient and reinvigorated supply chain. Their commitment to Open RAN is also said to support the European Commission’s target to have 5G in all populated areas by 2030.

Vodafone and Orange regard Open RAN as being able to unlock significant advantages over traditional network sharing. By using open and virtualised RAN, disaggregated software and hardware will each have greater flexibility when adding new radio sites or upgrading existing ones, while keeping the cost and energy consumption low. This model, they say, will serve as a blueprint to extend 4G and 5G networks to rural communities across Europe.

Open RAN sharing paves the way for Orange and Vodafone to benefit from an open infrastructure, allowing the sharing of all hardware components – from radio units to cloud infrastructure – while independently managing their own RAN software on a common cloud infrastructure.

As a result, each company will be able to tailor services and capacity to their specific customer needs, while ensuring isolation between each operator’s data. This is in line with the priorities that have been developed under the memorandum of understanding both operators signed in early 2021 with other major European operators.

The move also represents the first time two companies have agreed to share Open RAN networks in Europe, with the first commercial sites to be deployed under this agreement planned to start this year in a rural area of Romania, near Bucharest.

These sites are designed to provide an initial real-life experience of this new operational model based on the integration of multi-supplier hardware and software, paving the way for wider-scale deployments. Orange and Vodafone are currently working to individually select strategic suppliers for this initial build phase.

“Orange is excited to cooperate with Vodafone on a first Open RAN sharing deployment in Romania, which is a significant milestone on the road to wide-scale Open RAN adoption across Europe,” commented Orange chief technology and innovation officer Michaël Trabbia.

“It is a major step towards agile and fully automated networks, unleashing the potential of virtualisation and AI [artificial intelligence] to boost performance while driving both infrastructure and operational costs down. In particular, Open RAN is a great opportunity to take network sharing to a whole new dimension, with even higher operator differentiation thanks to the ability for each of the partners to tune its network more independently according to its promises towards its own customers,” he added.

Alberto Ripepi, chief network officer at Vodafone, said it was “delighted” to be working with Orange on this industry-first initiative. “By combining resources, we will reduce the cost of hardware, minimise fuel consumption and the need for duplicate sites whilst eradicating coverage notspots,” he added.

“Open RAN also means we can more quickly add new software features without necessarily replacing the hardware components, which is often the case today. This minimises any disruption to service and ensures customers in rural areas receive the same upgrades as those in the cities.”

Testing of the Open RAN solution on a live network will continue throughout 2023, allowing a like-for-like comparison with legacy networks. The aim is to confirm the feature and performance parity between Open RAN and traditional RAN solutions before expanding the Open RAN sharing blueprint to other markets.

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