Vodafone deploys UK's first live OpenRAN site

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Vodafone has become the first mobile operator to switch on a live OpenRAN site in the UK, claiming the use of open-based radio access network (RAN) equipment will make it easier and cheaper to improve coverage in rural areas.

The Newbury-based firm has switched on a site at the Royal Wesh Showground in Powys with the support of partners Mavenir.

Traditional methods of procurement have seen operators deploy integrated cell sites comprising radio, hardware, and software from a single supplier. This approach makes it difficult to mix and match innovations and poses a significant barrier to entry for other vendors.

Vodafone OpenRAN

The RAN market is dominated by Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, but proponents of Open RAN believe the use of open interfaces can lower the barriers to entry for smaller players – potentially reducing costs and driving innovation.

Open network innovations are software based and use commoditised hardware to reduce costs.

This is especially true with 5G, which has increased the appetite for a more flexible model. Operators are rearchitecting their networks with cloud and software-defined networking (SDN) so they can be more agile in terms of operations and in rolling out new services.

Vodafone says the need for greater supply diversity is essential for the industry– a statement that carries more weight in the UK given operators are forbidden from using Huawei’s 5G RAN gear. 

It previously staged Euope's first trial of OpenRAN and says it will now identify other rural communities where OpenRAN makes it more cost effective to improve coverage.

“This is our first live OpenRAN site in the UK, and that’s an important milestone,” said Scot Petty, Vodafone UK CTO. “This new approach has the ability to make us less dependent on current larger technology suppliers, and find ways to reduce the cost of rolling out mobile coverage. OpenRAN can also help close the digital divide between urban and rural Britain.”

Nokia and Ericsson have both joined the O-RAN Alliance, one of several open RAN organisations, which has a Alliance’s 170-strong membership of operators, vendors and research institutions. Earlier this year, the O-RAN Alliance agreed a partnership with mobile industry body, the GSMA.

Nokia also plans to integrate Open RAN interfaces and capabilities to its AirScale radio platform later this year.

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.