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Vodafone UK Opens New Lab to Test OpenRAN Mobile Kit

Wednesday, April 21st, 2021 (11:29 am) - Score 816
vodafone_uk_openran_mast

Mobile operator Vodafone UK has opened a new Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) focused Test and Integration Lab at its Newbury technology campus, which will help to support their future plans for a commercial rollout of the 4G and 5G mobile supporting technology in rural parts of England and Wales.

At present if an operator wants to buy mobile equipment then they can often only pick from a handful of big companies (Nokia, Ericsson etc.), while the OpenRAN (or O-RAN) approach seeks to standardise the design and functionality of mobile networking kit and software. As a result, operators could increase the number of companies able to supply them via vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology (the RAN side of things includes infrastructure, masts and antennae).

Last year Vodafone became the first operator to announce plans for a major UK rollout of O-RAN to upgrade 2,600 sites (here), mostly in rural Wales and South West England. But the full deployment of that won’t actually start until 2022 and will then run until 2027, which is because the ecosystem (suppliers, kit, software etc.) around this is still developing, and they need to foster more suppliers.

Suffice to say that the new lab in Newbury aims to provide a state-of-the-art capability for Vodafone, OpenRAN vendors and partners to “test, validate and prove platforms prior to commercial deployment as well as provide an environment to nurture the advancement of a still developing ecosystem.” It will be staffed by 30 engineers to work with the vendors (i.e. ensuring the new kit complies with Vodafone and Industry O-RAN specifications).

Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer of Vodafone UK, said:

“The OpenRAN ecosystem is still in its infancy, and we want to spur its development.

We want to avoid a Catch-22 situation, where operators wait to buy perfect products, but the OpenRAN vendors need investment to perfect their products. This is why we are announcing this investment in a new R&D lab, as well as committing to 2,500 OpenRAN sites in the UK countryside.

OpenRAN promises meaningful benefits, including innovation, competition, and carbon savings. But, we’ll only deliver these benefits if we support the ecosystem.”

Matt Warman, UK Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:

“Vodafone is paving the way in building mobile networks with a variety of different equipment suppliers and its Newbury facility will put the UK at the forefront of the telecoms revolution – creating new jobs and opportunities for other firms.

I thank the company for its continued support of our £250 million strategy to diversify the 5G market which will help us build confidence in the security and resilience of this next-generation technology.”

At present Vodafone already have several OpenRAN sites carrying live traffic in its UK network, having first deployed the technology at the Royal Welsh Showground in July 2020. More sites may follow as part of their testing ahead of the planned commercial deployments.

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