BT says a trial of Open RAN in Hull will allow it to see how the technology can aid its 5G network and will promote the development of interoperable radio technologies.
The company has been less active in the field than some of its rivals to date, with the likes of Vodafone and Virgin Media O2 benefiting from Europe-wide initiatives.
However, BT says it is committed to investing in any technology that will improve the customer experience on its EE 5G network – including open network architectures.
OpenRAN differs have traditional approaches to Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment in that it comprises vendor-neutral equipment with standardised designs. This lowers the barriers to entry and allows a variety of firms to supply hardware and software rather than just a select few who offer highly integrated cell designs.
Because Open RAN is more software driven, operators can mix and match multiple technologies and roll out new services more quickly. This drives innovation, lowers cost, and reduces the threat of vendor-lock in.
There are various industry initiatives to develop the Open RAN ecosystem and ensure that these innovations are both commercially-mature and interoperable. In Hull, BT will work with its network partner Nokia to see how its RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) can work in a network environment.
The company will also open a dedicated Open RAN facility at its Adstral Park R&D facility in Suffolk for the industry to test open innovations and optimise them for use in a live network.
“Our Open RAN trial with Nokia is one of many investments we are making to boost the performance of our market-leading 4G and 5G EE network and deliver an even better service to our customers,” said Neil McRae, Chief Architect, BT.
“Our high performance, high efficiency radio access equipment, provided by the major global vendors, has enabled us to roll-out 4G and now 5G at scale, with the confidence that our customers will get the best network experience possible.”
Vodafone recently switched on the first OpenRAN mobile site in the UK that will carry live customer 5G traffic in Bath and plans to deploy 2,700 in Wales and the South West of England by 2027. Telefonica is targeting 800 sites in four markets, including the UK, by 2022.
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