Vodafone set to Open(RAN) a pioneering new UK R&D centre

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Vodafone has set out its plans to launch a pioneering new R&D centre in the UK that will focus on OpenRAN.

OpenRAN is set to bring about a new paradigm for how telecoms networks are deployed. Free of vendor lock-in, operators can use the interoperable equipment which suits their particular needs for cost and performance.

Andrea Donà, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK, said:

“The OpenRAN ecosystem is still in its infancy, and we want to spur its development.

We want to avoid a Catch-22 situation, where operators wait to buy perfect products, but the OpenRAN vendors need investment to perfect their products. This is why we are announcing this investment in a new R&D lab, as well as committing to 2,500 OpenRAN sites in the UK countryside.

OpenRAN promises meaningful benefits, including innovation, competition, and carbon savings. But we’ll only deliver these benefits if we support the ecosystem.”

Vodafone’s new Test and Validation Lab will be opened at the telecoms giant’s Newbury campus with the intention of boosting the role that the UK plays in developing the groundbreaking new technology.

Richard Webb, Director of Network Infrastructure at CCS Insight, commented:

“For some time now Vodafone has been a vocal supporter of the OpenRAN (O-RAN) concept but this move shows it is really putting its money where its mouth is, investing in the acceleration of O-RAN as a technology strategy and as a commercial reality, driving a more diverse ecosystem of technology suppliers and partners.

This will have a positive impact on its own network evolution as Vodafone strives for greater virtualisation and software-defined operations, and on its service development as it seeks to leverage cloud capabilities, AI and automation for its offerings to customers.

A test and integration facility for O-RAN-based projects, coming from an operator with the scale and clout of Vodafone, is a vital step for O-RAN adoption as there is no one-size-fits-all solution and there are some gnarly challenges for O-RAN, such as Massive MIMO implementation.”

Vodafone lists three core reasons for launching the lab:

  • Vendor diversity: By ensuring there is interoperability for all hardware and software components, vendors can specialise in specific areas rather than having to produce end-to-end solutions. In today’s vendor ecosystem, having to focus on so many areas means many innovative companies cannot work with telecoms operators. OpenRAN allows for the development of specialist providers, increasing vendor diversity and making telecoms supply chains more resilient and secure.
  • Innovation: With more specialist vendors emerging, investment can be dedicated to more specific workstreams to encourage innovation. Increased competition will also act as a catalyst for innovation.
  • Environmental impact: Vodafone can begin to optimise specific elements of the RAN supply chain. This includes improving its environmental impact, which is simpler when there are different components of the RAN ecosystem.

The British government and operators have increased their support for OpenRAN since Huawei was banned from networks. OpenRAN is hoped will help to fill the gap left by the departure of such a large vendor which – security concerns aside – brought innovation to the market at competitive prices.

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:

“Vodafone is paving the way in building mobile networks with a variety of different equipment suppliers and its Newbury facility will put the UK at the forefront of the telecoms revolution – creating new jobs and opportunities for other firms.

I thank the company for its continued support of our £250m strategy to diversify the 5G market which will help us build confidence in the security and resilience of this next-generation technology.”

In October, Vodafone committed to creating 2,500 mobile sites using OpenRAN.

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