O2 stages Open RAN trial with NEC

(Image credit: Vodafone)

O2 has held a successful trial of Open RAN technology with NEC in what is a major step forward for the Japanese vendor’s involvement in the UK market.

NEC was the systems integrator for this trial and coordinated the overall design and its ecosystem of partners. The ‘end-to-end’ testing and interoperability verification took place at NEC’s recently established Centre of Excellence in the UK.

The Radio Access Network (RAN) market has traditionally been dominated by a few major players who offer highly integrated cell sites comprising radio, hardware, and software. This approach has made it difficult for operators to mix and match innovations and has proved to be a significant barrier to entry for smaller vendors.

O2 OpenRAN

Open RAN is a vendor-neutral approach with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software. Operators believe this can increase innovation, reduce costs, and reduce dependency on the ‘big three’ of Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia. Analysts believe the market for Open RAN technologies will reach $5 billion within five years.

O2 has previously held trials of Open RAN, believing it can deliver superior indoor 4G and 5G coverage. However, the involvement of NEC is noteworthy because of the government’s belief that the company – and Open RAN - can help fill the gap left by Huawei’s exclusion from the rollout of 5G in the UK.

NEC is a major player in the RAN market in its native Japan, but it is hoped the company can adapt the Radio Access Network (RAN) technology it has developed for its Japanese customers for a wider audience.

“We are extremely excited to be driving this journey on the home ground of our Open RAN Center of Excellence in the UK,” said Mayuko Tatewaki, General Manager, Service Provider Solutions Division, NEC. “Through close collaboration with O2, we are honoured to contribute to the diversification and innovation of network transformation.”

In addition to O2’s Open RAN trials in the UK, its parent company Telefonica has embarked on pilot programmes in other markets such as Brazil, Germany and Spain. Along with other major European telecoms groups Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Vodafone, Telefonica has also committed to accelerate the deployment of Open RAN across the continent.

“The partnership between NEC and O2 promises to accelerate the provision and growth of Open RAN solutions in the UK,” said Derek McManus, O2 COO. “O2 will continue to transform our network through collaboration and the optimisation of new technologies such as Open RAN.”

Vodafone switched on the UK’s first Open RAN site last year and plans to upgrade 2,600 sites with open radio technologies by 2027 as it strips Huawei kit from its network.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.