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Vodafone Switches-on First Live UK OpenRAN Site and Tests uCPE

Thursday, Aug 6th, 2020 (10:15 am) - Score 3,082
Vodafone mobile wireless mast and engineer

Vodafone has just become the first UK mobile operator to switch-on a live 4G Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) site, which could help to cut the cost of building new networks by standardising the design and functionality of hardware and software. Separately they’ve also tested Universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE).

At present if an operator wants to buy mobile equipment then they can often only pick from a handful of big companies, while the OpenRAN approach could increase the number of companies by adopting a general-purpose, vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology approach (this specifically applies to the RAN side of things – infrastructure, masts and antennae).

Both O2 and Vodafone have been playing around with trials of OpenRAN for quite a few months (here and here), but today marks the first time that one of those has switched-on a live site for actual customers to use in the real-world. The site in question is at the Royal Welsh Showground in Powys, Wales.

Vodafone is now working to identify communities across the UK where they can more economically introduce “voice and high-speed data” (mobile broadband) using the new technology.

Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK, said:

“This is our first live OpenRAN site in the UK, and that’s an important milestone. This new approach has the ability to make us less dependent on current larger technology suppliers, and find ways to reduce the cost of rolling out mobile coverage. OpenRAN can also help close the digital divide between urban and rural Britain.”

Matt Warman, UK Digital Infrastructure Minister, said:

“OpenRAN gives mobile companies the flexibility to use multiple suppliers in their 4G and 5G networks. This is vital to help the market grow, build resilience and give people fast, reliable and secure internet connections wherever they live and work.

I congratulate Vodafone on its first live OpenRAN site in the UK that will benefit people in Powys. This technology can make a real difference in improving connectivity in rural communities and I look forward to continuing to work closely with Vodafone and other operators on our plans to diversify the telecoms supply chain.”

In a separate development BATM and Arm have confirmed that Vodafone has helped them to complete a “successful” proof-of-concept for their Universal Customer Premises Equipment (uCPE) system, which rus off the NFVTime operating system. The term uCPE might sound a bit technical but it’s actually quite interesting.

At present a lot of fixed broadband and mobile networks still rely on specialised hardware to help deliver certain services to consumers and businesses, such as a router, firewall or WAN optimiser. All of these tend to come from different manufacturers and that can leave networks beholden to those firms for future improvements and updates.

The idea of uCPE is to create a general-purpose platform that can provide network services (such as SD WAN, firewall etc.) as virtual functions to any site on a network (VNF). As a result, the operator no longer needs to rely on, or be limited by, specialised hardware to deliver services and some or all of that functionality can instead be delivered virtually as software.

Arguably some broadband routers can already do a lot of this and there are limits to such an approach, such as when physical connectivity standards change. Nevertheless, it does hold the potential to cut costs and increase systems performance for operators. But at present uCPE is only just getting started.

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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on X (Twitter), Mastodon, Facebook and .
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1 Response
  1. Avatar photo NGA for all says:

    This is good and welcome. How far to a single shared network and shared device registration? Are they sharing spectrum so 20Mhz blocks can be created?

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