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Vodafone Switches On UK’s First Scaled 5G Mobile OpenRAN Site

Wednesday, January 19th, 2022 (9:00 am) - Score 2,880

Mobile operator Vodafone, which last year announced plans to rollout OpenRAN (O-RAN) across around 2,600 sites in rural parts of Wales and South West England by 2027 (here), has today switched-on the UK and Europe’s first live – at scale – commercial 5G and 4G deployment of the new technology in the city of Bath (Somerset).

At present, if a Mobile Network Operator (MNO) wants to buy new network kit then they can usually only choose from a handful of big suppliers (Nokia, Ericsson etc.). The O-RAN approach seeks to standardise the design and functionality of such kit and software, thus increasing the number of companies able to supply them via vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology (the RAN side covers infrastructure, masts and antennae).

NOTE: Vodafone’s original PR talked about 2,600 sites, while today’s uses the lower figure of 2,500 and suggests that they may have reduced their initial rollout plan.

Vodafone’s plans for O-RAN have kept them ahead of the game, and they previously promised to start their commercial rollout of the new technology this year, which means that today’s announcement shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. The first site in Bath will be delivered with technologies from their previously announced partners, including Samsung, Wind River, Dell, Intel, Keysight Technologies and Capgemini Engineering.

The new site has already gone live and, to celebrate this deployment, the operator made their first 5G video call over OpenRAN infrastructure – this was a call between Vodafone’s Chief Network Officer, Andrea Dona, and the UK Government’s Minister for Digital Infrastructure, Julia Lopez, which officially took place on 11th January 2022.

Julia Lopez, UK Digital Infrastructure Minister, said:

“This phone call, the first in the UK to be made using 5G OpenRAN infrastructure, marks a big step forward for innovation in UK telecoms. OpenRAN will have an important role to play in the future of our mobile networks and I congratulate Vodafone for being the first to make it happen. The government is investing in the technology through our £250 million diversification strategy so we can deliver the amazing benefits of 5G for people and businesses with more diverse, resilient and secure equipment in our networks.”

Lest we forget that the UK Government has already committed £30m to support a Future RAN Competition (FRANC), which aims to fund “innovative R&D projects” that could help to speed up the adoption of a new breed of wireless Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) based 4G and 5G mobile networks.

Andrea Dona, Vodafone UK’s Chief Network Officer, said:

“This is the beginning of a new chapter for the mobile industry. Our team has been working tirelessly to take OpenRAN technology from a theory in our lab to our customers in the real-world – it’s remarkable how much has been achieved in such a short period of time. OpenRAN as a concept is only five years old, and we’re already fundamentally changing how we deploy connectivity infrastructure. This is a watershed moment in the telecoms industry, and a catalyst for change and evolution.”

As part of the First Site Installation (FSI) in Bath, the following OpenRAN-compliant technology was deployed:

➤ Samsung virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) Solutions and 5G radio units.

➤ Dell Common Off The Shelf (COTS) servers.

➤ Intel Xeon processors to enable various technologies including CPU, workload acceleration and connectivity.

➤ Wind River distributed cloud-native platform hosting the Open RAN applications.

Capgemini Engineers and Keysight Technologies have also provided testing and integration services in the Vodafone lab to ensure interoperability of the multi-vendor ecosystem. Once technologies and vendors have been verified as OpenRAN-compliant, deployment of equipment becomes a much simpler task.

Vodafone added that OpenRAN 4G and 5G antennas from both Samsung and NEC should start to be deployed from mid-2022. Once interoperability tests for these radio units have been completed in the lab, the units can be deployed in a ‘plug and play’ manner on the existing OpenRAN infrastructure.

All of this is good news, although OpenRAN still has a lot to prove and an ecosystem that needs to become more established before it can really start to make an impact. Suffice to say, Vodafone’s deployment will be closely watched.

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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 Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
Leave a Comment
8 Responses
  1. Jack says:

    Vodafone need to be quicker at rolling out 5G generally. I don’t think any area in Kent outside places close to London have any coverage. I’m sure it’s the same with a lot of towns as its mainly just in cities!

  2. Mark says:

    Is that photo real? That looks like an rural area, there up in arms here if they try to build a telegraph pole style mast, just shows the variation across the UK on planning.

  3. Jimbo says:

    Vodafone are well behind with mast installs and upgrades in my rural area.

    The last upgrade was RRU upgrade in 2016.

    They need to speed up their deployment of new 4G upgrades and 5G masts.

  4. Stewart Whitelock says:

    Here in my corner West Devon 2g from any suplier would be good.

  5. Me says:

    I just laugh at their pathetic excuse of ‘rural Britain’ and then stick masts up in the ‘city’ of Bath… it’s the same as putting one up in London or Bristol or Exeter and claiming it’s ‘rural’.
    Anyway I hope it works and they do actually put masts up in what are actual rural areas.

    1. Mark says:

      NIMBYS and usually planning problems will be a the spanner in the works. Government so say had softened planning regulations, clearly not working in some areas, the problem persists years later.

    2. Carl Conrad says:

      I suspect Bath has been chosen for the deployment as it’s a small city with very challenging topography which will test the kit to the fullest extent. Couple this with a relatively affluent population who are more likely to have 5G capable devices. Looked at in this way it’s an eminently sensible deployment.

  6. Darrell Reed says:

    Vodafone coverage site still states no 5g now or in 3 months

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