Virgin Media O2 switches on first OpenRAN site

(Image credit: Vodafone)

Virgin Media O2 has activated its first Open RAN mobile sites in Northamptonshire, paving the way for a wider deployment of the technology in its 4G and 5G networks.

Open RAN is a vendor-neutral approach to radio networks with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software rather than the highly integrated cell site products traditionally offered by major manufacturers.

The hope is that OpenRAN can increase innovation, reduce costs, and reduce dependency on the ‘big three’ of Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia.

O2 OpenRAN

Virgin Media O2, along with its network partners NEC and Rakuten Symphony, successfully completed lab trials last year with a view to deploying at least 800 Open RAN sites by the end of 2022.

NEC is providing system integration capabilities and an open end-to-end platform, while Rakuten is supplying Open RAN software, edge cloud, and radio management and operations system.

NEC is a major player in the RAN market in its native Japan but hopes to adapt the technology it has built for its Japanese customers for a wider audience. The appetite for OpenRAN and the spirit of openness within the industry, coupled with the desire from governments to increase the pool of potential suppliers, has increased its chances of success.

“The successful activation of Virgin Media O2’s first UK macro-sites demonstrates the potential of the multi-vendor Open RAN model,” said Jeanie York, Virgin Media O2 chief technology officer.

“We are strong believers in the power of diverse Open RAN ecosystems and in NEC, we have a partner that really shares our view. Its industry-leading system integration capabilities are integral in helping us deliver the mobile networks of the future, today.”

Virgin Media O2’s bid to diversify its supplier pool has also seen it partner with Samsung, which is also keen to crack the UK market. Earlier this year Virgin Media O2 switched on the first mobile sites in the UK to be powered by the Korean giant’s telecommunications equipment.

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.