Vodafone and Qualcomm team up on OpenRAN reference designs

Mast in Strathconon
(Image credit: WHP Telecom)

Vodafone and Qualcomm are to co-develop blueprints for OpenRAN technology, hoping the reference designs will allow more vendors to develop open telecoms equipment that will drive 5G deployments.

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.

OpenRAN 5G

OpenRAN is a vendor-neutral approach with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software. Operators benefit from increased innovation from a wider range of suppliers, reduced costs, and greater flexibility because the threat of vendor lock-in is reduced.

The economic and performance promise of OpenRAN will translate into superior 5G services for businesses and consumers.

Most mobile operators will adopt a multi-vendor strategy in the 5G era, but the two companies argue that this approach has its challenges because kit from a particular vendor is usually deployed in a cluster. Areas where these two clusters meet tend to suffer in terms of performance, and it is hoped that OpenRAN will provide operators with a range of technologies to address this shortfall.

Both Vodafone and Qualcomm are big supporters of OpenRAN, which promises to improve the economics and performance of 5G networks and drive demand for compatible devices and applications.

“Global supply chains need a diverse and vibrant vendor ecosystem to keep them moving in the event of a product shortage or a single supplier having difficulties,” said Santiago Tenorio, Head of Network Architecture of Vodafone.

“Open RAN provides greater supplier diversity by allowing many more small vendors to compete on the world stage.”

The references designs will combine Vodafone’s network engineering capabilities with Qualcomm’s component expertise to lower the barrier to entry for OpenRAN vendors and aid the commercialisation of open technologies. 

A Massive MIMO reference design is expected to be published later this year, with trials starting in the second half of 2022.

“Virtualized and Open RAN offer a significant opportunity to make 5G networks more flexible and cost efficient, transforming them into a platform for innovation,” addedDino Flore, vice president, technology, Qualcomm Europe.

“The collaboration to develop comprehensive solutions from Open RAN RU with MaMIMO capabilities to high performance DU platforms provides an important step forward in speeding up the transition to open, virtualized and interoperable radio access networks.”

In addition to this partnership with Qualcomm, Vodafone is working with several other major European telco groups on OpenRAN and has opened a dedicated facility at its Newbury headquarters to allow vendors to test and commercialise their innovations. It plans to deploy OpenRAN at least 2,500 sites in the UK.

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.