Vodafone unveils first dedicated Open RAN test and integration lab

In a move that he says is consolidating its leadership in the field and hotly following in the footsteps of the UK government, reaffirming its commitment to accelerating the open interface and interoperable communication technologies, Vodafone has opened an open radio access network (Open RAN or O-RAN) laboratory for testing and integration on their campus in Newbury, UK.

Vodafone sees Open RAN as capable help him separate the hardware and software components of the network to select the optimal solution providers for specific roles, rather than their own end-to-end solutions, on which most RAN technologies are built. The result is that it can bind operators with a small number of suppliers. Based on the interoperability concept, Open RAN standardizes the development of hardware and software components, which means that telecom operators will be able to supply equipment from a wider variety of networks.

The open RAN is also being considered by Vodafone as a catalyst in the RAN domain to become an organization offering software defined and virtualized network with autonomous operation using artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML).

The operator sees many advantages of this approach. These include reducing the barrier to entry for RAN companies and increasing the resilience of the ecosystem, with technology companies being able to scale specific capabilities instead of focusing on a complete end-to-end solution. Vodafone said this approach will allow niche technology segments to work with more specialized vendors, as well as the ability to work with global IT vendors and existing platforms brought by the ability to deploy Open RAN on cuniversal processor for universal use (COTS) (GPP) platforms widely implemented in IT systems.

This would also allow the company to move from a limited set of research and development silos to a more creative innovation collaboration network. Vodafone sees Open RAN as enabling broader and more diverse supplier ecosystems, stimulating innovation and competition with the resulting benefits. This would also allow it to devote more resources and investment to software projects, as upgrade paths will no longer be inherently connected to network hardware components.

The Vodafone facility is designed to provide state-of-the-art capabilities not only for itself but also for Open RAN vendors and partners to test, validate and demonstrate platforms prior to commercial deployment, as well as provide an environment to nurture progress. still evolving ecosystem. The testing and validation laboratory follows Vodafone’s existing commitments to the Open RAN ecosystem – to development of 2500 mobile sites with Open RAN technologyproviding trade incentives for the Open RAN ecosystem.

“Open RAN promises significant benefits, including innovation, competition and carbon savings, but we will only deliver these benefits if we support the ecosystem.”

Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK

The new lab plans to hire 30 engineers working with suppliers to ensure that their products meet Vodafone and Open RAN industry specifications. This work will focus on all stages of Open RAN, from innovation, development and pre-deployment of commercial implementation, to ongoing lifecycle management.

As technology advances, Vodafone will also explore how Open RAN can be deployed in more complex urban environments, providing more commercial incentives for the ecosystem. To date, Vodafone has several Open RAN sites that stream live traffic to its UK network after first implementing Open RAN technology at the Royal Welsh Showground in July 2020.

Overall, the company sees the testing and integration lab as a key milestone on its path to the commercial implementation of Open RAN and one that will further enhance Vodafone’s leadership position in the Open RAN ecosystem.

“The open RAN ecosystem is still in its infancy and we want to encourage its development,” said Vodafone UK Chief Network Officer Andrea Dona. “We want to avoid a Catch-22 situation where operators are waiting to buy perfect products, but Open RAN vendors need investment to improve their products. That’s why we’re announcing this investment in a new R&D lab, as well as a commitment to 2,500 open RAN sites in the UK province. Open RAN promises significant benefits, including innovation, competition and carbon savings, but we will only provide these benefits if we support the ecosystem. “

The Open RAN is also a key part of the UK Government’s communication diversity strategy, which was announced in an attempt to address the consequences of banning the use of technology by high-risk providers such as Huawei from national communications infrastructures.

The plan includes funding for a trial of RAN with Japanese telecommunications provider NEC, which aims to see live 5G open RAN solutions launched in the UK this year. The open development of RAN is also essential in recommendations of the British Government Task Force on Telecommunications Diversification to ensure diversity and stimulate market supply.