Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Vodafone building a UK OpenRAN lab

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Wednesday 21 April 21

The operator has been one of the new technology’s major champions in recent months and is now set to champion its long term development

Throughout last year, the concept of OpenRAN — modular, interoperable hardware and software from various vendors that can work in tandem — has been gaining momentum. In light of the geopolitical dimension surrounding 5G networks and their security, the idea of using multiple suppliers has become increasingly appealing for operators and governments alike, but the technology nonetheless remains in its infancy…

Throughout last year, the concept of OpenRAN — modular, interoperable hardware and software from various vendors that can work in tandem — has been gaining momentum. In light of the geopolitical dimension surrounding 5G networks and their security, the idea of using multiple suppliers has become increasingly appealing for operators and governments alike, but the technology nonetheless remains in its infancy. 

At the start of this year, however, OpenRAN received a major boost when a number of major European vendors, including Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange, and Telefonica, all signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the development of the new technology.

Vodafone, in fact, have been one of the more supportive of the major operators, being one of the few to pledge to incorporate OpenRAN into their live network, set to upgrade 2,500 sites with the new technology, replacing Huawei technology.

Now, the operator is going yet one step further, set to invest in an OpenRAN Test and Integration Lab at its Newbury technology campus. The lab will employee around 30 engineers, with further partners potentially added in future, and will focus on research and development.

Explaining the reasoning behind the labs development, Vodafone pointed out that OpenRAN tech was at an inflection point in its development, whereby it has the potential to be revolutionary but if it receives adequate support from the industry. 

“We want to avoid a Catch-22 situation, where operators wait to buy perfect products, but the OpenRAN vendors need investment to perfect their products. This is why we are announcing this investment in a new R&D lab, as well as committing to 2,500 OpenRAN sites in the UK countryside,” said Andrea Donà, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK. “OpenRAN promises meaningful benefits, including innovation, competition, and carbon savings. But we’ll only deliver these benefits if we support the ecosystem.”

Unsurprisingly, the UK government are seemingly delighted by this development, with their vendor diversity taskforce just last week recommending that 25% of the country’s telecoms equipment should come from smaller equipment companies. 

“Vodafone is paving the way in building mobile networks with a variety of different equipment suppliers and its Newbury facility will put the UK at the forefront of the telecoms revolution – creating new jobs and opportunities for other firms,” said minister for digital infrastructure Matt Warman. 

 

To what extent can OpenRAN technology change the UK telecoms landscape? Find out from the experts themselves at this year’s live Connected Britain event

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