Vodafone says its new OpenRAN-based small cell will help businesses improve indoor 4G coverage in medium-to-large office spaces.
Providing indoor coverage can be tricky because certain spectrum bands find it difficult to penetrate walls and other obstacles.
Low-band spectrum is one way of improving matters, but micro infrastructure such as small cells provides the network density required to maximise the potential of high capacity mid-range and high-range frequencies.
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Public venues such as shopping centres and sports stadiums have deployed small cells to ensure customers can stay connected when they visit, ultimately driving revenues. In an office environment, the ability for employees to use their smartphones will enhance digitisation efforts.
The use of OpenRAN is significant because it means businesses who adopt Vodafone’s small cells can be assured of long-term flexibility that the technology will work with a wider array of radio unit, baseband hardware and gateways.
The operator is a keen supporter of OpenRAN, which is a vendor-neutral approach to Radio Access Network (RAN) 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.
Vodafone has pledged to deploy OpenRAN in at least 2,600 sites in the UK by 2027 and has launched several industry initiatives to accelerate the commercialisation of the technology.
“So far, OpenRAN deployment has focused on outdoor connectivity, but there is significant potential for this technology in the office environment,” said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, “A simple plug-and-play product, which includes all the attractive benefits of the OpenRAN philosophy, is one that can build on our strength of providing indoor coverage through both our macro network and our bespoke solutions.”
For this particular product, Mavenir is supplying the Open vRAN software, while the hardware is provided Sercomm. The small cell is ‘plug and play’ so customers benefit from enhanced connectivity as quickly as possible.
“Mavenir is delighted to partner with Vodafone in Open RAN and to work in the UK on their radio network transformation initiative, proving the extreme flexibility of Open vRAN,” added Virtyt Koshi, SVP Mavenir EMEA. “We are particularly proud in working in the field within the Vodafone commercial network and in the Newbury Open RAN Test and Verification lab, supporting the Vodafone effort to boost the ecosystem.”
Analysts believe the market for Open RAN technologies will reach $5 billion within five years, and it’s not just new players getting involved. Nokia and Ericsson have both joined the O-RAN Alliance and become part of its 170-strong membership of operators, vendors and research institutions. In 2020, the O-RAN Alliance agreed a partnership with mobile industry body, the GSMA.
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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.