Mobile operator Vodafone today announced that their upcoming commercial launch of a new one 4G and 5G A network using an OpenRAN-compatible radio kit will be supported by several key vendors, including: Dell, NEC, Samsung Electronics, Wind River, Capgemini Engineering, and Keysight Technologies.
Currently, if a mobile operator wants to buy a new network kit, it can usually choose from only a few major providers (Nokia, Ericsson, etc.). The O-RAN approach seeks to standardize the design and functionality of such a kit and software, thus increasing the number of companies that can supply them through vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology (RAN country covers infrastructure, masts and antennas) .
Last year Vodafone became the first mobile network operator in the United Kingdom to announce its plans for the widespread deployment of O-RAN to upgrade 2,600 sites in rural Wales and South West England (here), which at that time was to start in 2022 and be completed by 2027. The reason for the delayed start is due to the O-RAN ecosystem (suppliers, kit and software), which needs more time to develop.
However, today’s announcement states that the work on their distribution in rural areas of the UK should be “starting this year … [before] relocation to urban areas at a later stage.”
Johann Viberg, Vodafone’s technical director, said:
“Open RAN provides huge benefits for customers. Our network will become highly programmable and automated, which means we can launch new features simultaneously across multiple sites, add or deploy capacity faster, resolve instant outages, and provide business connectivity on demand.
Open RAN is also reviving our industry. This will boost the digital economy by stimulating greater technological innovation from a wider range of suppliers, bringing much-needed diversity to the supply chain. “
We suspect that most ordinary users will not actually notice the gradual introduction of OpenRAN, as it is more about improving the seamless bits behind the scenes. On the other hand, potential cost savings, greater coverage and greater network flexibility could help for future coverage and thus service delivery.
On the other hand, we are still in the early stages and it will take time to fully realize the benefits. Initially, large vendors may be better at providing maintenance than much smaller fries, and an early O-RAN kit is usually quite hungry. Not to forget that the big vendors are also adapting to O-RAN, as can be seen from Samsung included above.