Vodafone switches on UK's first live OpenRAN 5G site

Vodafone OpenRAN
(Image credit: Vodafone)

Vodafone has switched on the first OpenRAN mobile site in the UK that will carry live customer 5G traffic, paving the way for Europe’s first scaled rollout of the technology.

The site in Bath is the first of at least 2,700 that the operator will deploy in Wales and the South West of England by 2027.

Vodafone has been a major supporter of OpenRAN which it hopes will enhance its 5G infrastructure and assist with the enforced removal of Huawei equipment from its network.

Vodafone OpenRAN

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.

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.

At the Bath site, Samsung provided virtualised RAN (vRAN) and radio equipment, with Dell providing off-the-shelf PowerEdge servers and Intel delivering Xeon chips. Keysight Technologies and Capgemini Engineering assisted with testing and interoperability. Other tech partners, including NEC, will participate in the wider rollout.

“This is the beginning of a new chapter for the mobile industry,” declared Andrea Dona, chief network officer. “Our team has been working tirelessly to take OpenRAN technology from a theory in our lab to our customers in the real-world – it’s remarkable how much has been achieved in such a short period of time.

“OpenRAN as a concept is only five years old, and we’re already fundamentally changing how we deploy connectivity infrastructure. This is a watershed moment in the telecoms industry, and a catalyst for change and evolution.”

The government is a keen supporter of OpenRAN technology as a means of diversifying the supplier pool for UK operators in the 5G era, providing funding for trials and testbeds.

“OpenRAN will have an important role to play in the future of our mobile networks and I congratulate Vodafone for being the first to make it happen,” added digital infrasticture minister Julia Lopez. “The government is investing in the technology through our £250 million diversification strategy so we can deliver the amazing benefits of 5G for people and businesses with more diverse, resilient and secure equipment in our networks.”

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.