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Vodafone UK Deploy NEC Massive MIMO Tech to Live 5G OpenRAN Site

Wednesday, Feb 21st, 2024 (10:04 am) - Score 2,000
Vodafone-4G-and-5G-OpenRAN-Rural-Mast

Mobile operator Vodafone UK, which last year began work to deploy Open Radio Access Network kit to 2,500 sites across mostly rural parts of Wales and the South West England by 2027 (here), has successfully deployed NEC’s Massive MIMO (mMIMO) technology to one of their live 5G (mobile broadband) capable O-RAN sites.

The O-RAN approach aims to standardise the design and functionality of radio access kit and software, thus increasing the number of companies able to supply operators via vendor-neutral hardware and software-defined technology, while also boosting interoperability. But until now most of the 4G (mobile broadband) capable O-RAN kit they’ve been using has not been capable or fully enabled for 5G centric mMIMO technology.

NOTE: The Radio Access Network (RAN) covers infrastructure, masts and antennae.

For those who don’t know, Massive MIMO (massive multiple-input multiple-output) is a type of wireless communications technology in which base stations are equipped with a very large number of antenna elements to improve spectral and energy efficiency, such as by allowing the transmitting and receiving of more than one data signal simultaneously over the same radio channel. This is a key part of modern 5G mobile networks.

At present the early phase of Vodafone’s “volume deployment“ of O-RAN has been taking place in semi-urban parts of Devon, such as in the towns of Exmouth and Torquay, among other places. One of their live sites has now become the first to benefit from NEC’s latest mMIMO capable O-RAN kit, although the operator doesn’t state precisely which site.

The Vodafone team will now test and optimise the technology, before deploying it on a number of new sites to support higher traffic demands. The new setup supports 64 transmit and 64 receive antennas, which allows the site to transmit and receive more data. The Massive MIMO Radio Units supplied by NEC are known to be compatible with the O-RAN Alliance 7-2x split.

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

“Massive MIMO is the cherry on top of any 5G installation. It dramatically improves the efficiency of the site, and as a result, provides an enhanced mobile experience for our customers.

This is an exciting development because it proves the benefits of OpenRAN. Here, we have replaced a component of a live mobile site with one from a different vendor, without operational complications, and it is running on software from Samsung. This is interchangeability and interoperability in action.”

In many ways Vodafone seems to be developing the technology as they start to deploy it, although this isn’t such an unusual approach for mobile operators, which often apply periodic upgrades to existing networks. Crucially, this flexibility is something that O-RAN is specifically designed to handle, so it makes sense for the operator to be trying it out on an existing site.

At present Vodafone is still the only major UK mobile operator to have begun a large-scale deployment of O-RAN. But all the major mobile operators are currently looking at O-RAN solutions for the future and have agreed to a “joint ambition” with the government, which will see 35% of the UK’s mobile network traffic being carried over O-RAN by 2030 (here).

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Mark-Jackson
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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Comments
3 Responses
  1. Avatar photo Paul Rhodes says:

    The image rather undersells what is a rather significant announcement of a Multi-Vendor vRAN deployment also evolving to be M-V on the OpenRAN aspect.

    Perhaps using an image of an actual massive MIMO site would provide better context, rather than an Openreach MIIS Antenna re-using a legacy phone pole to deliver localised 4G coverage.

    1. Mark-Jackson Mark Jackson says:

      One has not been provided, yet.

  2. Avatar photo Anon says:

    Does this provide for beamforming too using constructive interference?

Comments are closed

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