Vodafone opens take a look at laboratory for cellular OpenRAN gadgets

Vodafone is opening a state-of-the-art test and integration laboratory for OpenRAN at its Newbury headquarters in the hope that the facility will accelerate the development and commercialization of the technology.

Like other large telecommunications companies, Vodafone goes beyond mere enterprise connectivity and increasingly sees itself as a technology company capable of providing a range of services to customers.

The addition of Software Defined Network (SDN) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) throughout the infrastructure has been a key element of this digitization process, and specific OpenRAN technologies are seen as a means to accelerate these efforts.

Vodafone OpenRAN

The radio access network (RAN) market has traditionally been dominated by a few major players offering highly integrated cellular sites that include radio, hardware and software. This approach has made it difficult for operators to combine innovations and has proven to be a significant barrier to entry for smaller providers.

OpenRAN is a vendor-neutral approach with standardized designs that a large number of companies can use to provide hardware and software. Operators benefit from increased innovation through a wider range of suppliers, lower costs and greater flexibility, as the risk of supplier loyalty is reduced.

Vodafone also believes that OpenRAN can make networks more sustainable as it will be possible to optimize certain parts of the RAN supply chain to reduce energy consumption.

The company has already carried out trials in several European countries and last year switched on the UK’s first live OpenRAN site in Wales to deploy the technology in 2,500 locations. To achieve this, however, a mature OpenRAN ecosystem with commercial products is required.

The test and integration lab will employ 30 engineers to work with vendors to ensure their products meet Vodafone and OpenRAN specifications for the entire industry. Work begins in the innovation and development phase through to commercial deployments and ongoing lifecycle management.

The company says the lab is further evidence of its commitment to OpenRAN and shows its ambition to be a leader in a fledgling market

“The OpenRAN ecosystem is still in its infancy and we want to continue developing it,” said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK.

“We want to avoid a catch-22 situation where operators wait to buy perfect products, but OpenRAN vendors need investment to perfect their products. Because of this, we are announcing this investment in a new research and development laboratory and are committed to 2,500 OpenRAN locations in the UK. OpenRAN promises significant benefits including innovation, competition and carbon savings. However, we can only offer these advantages if we support the ecosystem. “

The UK government will show great interest in the development as it believes that OpenRAN can help mitigate the negative effects of the decision to exclude Huawei from adopting 5G.

Analysts predict the open RAN technology market will hit $ 5 billion in five years, and it’s not just new players getting involved. Nokia and Ericsson have both joined the O-RAN Alliance, one of several open RAN organizations made up of 170 members from operators, vendors and research institutions. In 2020 the O-RAN Alliance agreed a partnership with the mobile communications company GSMA.

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