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Vodafone opens Open RAN Lab in its home town

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Vodafone has opened the company’s first OpenRAN Test and Integration Lab at its Newbury technology campus, in the UK.

The facility will provide a capability for Vodafone, OpenRAN vendors and partners to test, validate and prove platforms prior to commercial deployment. It will also provide an environment to nurture the still developing ecosystem around OpenRAN.

The idea is to expand the number of companies in the RAN market, thereby reducing cost, and is part of Vodafone’s own evolution to becoming a software-orientated company.

The operator also wants to optimise specific elements of the RAN supply chain, including improving the environmental impact, which it claims is a simpler process when separating different components of the RAN ecosystem.

Investing in strategy

The Test and Integration Lab plans to employ 30 engineers working with vendors to ensure their products comply to Vodafone and Industry OpenRAN specifications.

This work will focus on all stages of OpenRAN from innovation, development and commercial deployment pre-staging to ongoing lifecycle management.

Richard Webb, Director, Network Infrastructure, CCS Insight, commented, “For some time now Vodafone has been a vocal supporter of the OpenRAN (O-RAN) concept but this move shows it is really putting its money where its mouth is, investing in the acceleration of O-RAN as a technology strategy and as a commercial reality, driving a more diverse ecosystem of technology suppliers and partners.”

“This will have a positive impact on its own network evolution as Vodafone strives for greater virtualisation and software-defined operations, and on its service development as it seeks to leverage cloud capabilities, AI and automation for its offerings to customers.” 

“A test and integration facility for O-RAN-based projects, coming from an operator with the scale and clout of Vodafone, is a vital step for O-RAN adoption as there is no one-size-fits-all solution and there are some gnarly challenges for O-RAN, such as Massive MIMO implementation.”

Story so far

In October, Vodafone committed to develop 2,500 mobile sites with OpenRAN technology, providing commercial incentive to the OpenRAN ecosystem.

This first commercial deployment at scale demonstrates Vodafone’s commitment and confidence to the OpenRAN ecosystem with further markets expected to follow.

As the technology matures, Vodafone will explore how it can also be deployed in the more complex urban environments, providing more commercial incentive for the ecosystem.
 
To date, Vodafone has several OpenRAN sites carrying live traffic in its UK network, having first deployed OpenRAN technology at the Royal Welsh Showground in July 2020.

Spur for development

Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, 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.”

Diversification

Matt Warman, 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.”