Vodafone is opening an advanced technology testing and integration lab for OpenRAN at its Newbury headquarters, hoping the facility will accelerate the development and commercialization of the technology.
Like other large telecommunications companies, Vodafone goes beyond simply providing business connectivity and is increasingly seen as a technology company capable of providing a range of services to customers.
The addition of a software-defined network (SDN) and artificial intelligence (AI) to its infrastructure are key elements of this digitization process, and specialized OpenRAN technologies are seen as a way to accelerate these efforts.
The Radio Access Network (RAN) market has traditionally been dominated by several major players that offer highly integrated cellular sites, including radio, hardware and software. This approach made it difficult for operators to mix and match innovations and proved to be a significant barrier to the entry of smaller suppliers.
OpenRAN is a vendor-neutral approach with a standardized design that allows different companies to deliver hardware and software. Operators benefit from increased innovation from a wider range of suppliers, reduced costs and greater flexibility as the threat of blocking the supplier is reduced.
Vodafone also believes that OpenRAN can make networks more resilient because it will be possible to optimize certain parts of the RAN supply chain to reduce energy consumption.
It has already organized trials in several European countries and included the UK’s first OpenRAN live site in Wales last year to deploy the technology at 2,500 locations. For this to happen, however, you need a mature OpenRAN ecosystem with commercial products to choose from.
The test and integration lab will employ 30 engineers who will work with vendors to ensure that their products meet Vodafone and the wider OpenRAN specifications in the industry. The work will start at the stages of innovation and development, to the implementation of commercial products and ongoing life cycle management.
The company says the lab is further proof of its commitment to OpenRAN and is demonstrating its ambition to be a leader in the nascent market.
“The OpenRAN ecosystem is still in its infancy and we want to stimulate its development,” said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK.
“We want to avoid a Catch-22 situation where operators are waiting to buy perfect products, but OpenRAN vendors need investment to improve their products. That’s why we’re announcing this investment in a new R&D lab, and we’re committed to 2,500 OpenRAN sites in the UK. OpenRAN promises significant benefits, including innovation, competition and carbon savings. But we will only provide these benefits if we support the ecosystem. “
The UK government will take a keen interest in the development, as it believes OpenRAN can help mitigate any negative impacts caused by the decision to exclude Huawei from implementing 5G.
Analysts estimate that the Open RAN technology market will reach $ 5 billion over five years, and not just new players. Nokia and Ericsson have joined the O-RAN Alliance, one of several open RAN organizations with 170 members from operators, suppliers and research institutions. In 2020, the O-RAN Alliance agreed to partner with the mobile industry body, the GSMA.