Vodafone begins volume deployment of OpenRAN across England and Wales

Vodafone has commenced the installation of OpenRAN mobile communications equipment at 2,500 sites across Wales and South-West England, to provide what it insists is “much needed” diversity in the telecoms supply chain and to act as a catalyst for innovation, in the latest part of the deployment of the technology in the UK.

OpenRAN is a critical component of Vodafone’s wider network strategy. Vodafone sees OpenRAN technology as able to provide a platform for innovation that would not otherwise have been possible, offering new ways to enhance customer experience and introduce innovation at an accelerated pace. In January 2022, it announced it was teaming up with Samsung Networks Europe to install the UK’s first 5G OpenRAN site, and in February 2023 began working with Orange to develop OpenRAN sharing specifically for rural locations around Europe.

The operator believes that not only can OpenRAN lower the barrier for entry for alternative suppliers to add greater resilience to Vodafone’s supply chain, but this additional competition will also act as a catalyst for innovation allowing for suppliers to specialise in niche areas.

Vodafone believes that key performance indicators (KPIs) now indicate that performance of OpenRAN exceeds that of legacy equipment in the majority of areas, including 4G and 5G call success rate, download and upload speeds across multiple spectrum frequencies.

The new programme will begin in Devon, where OpenRAN technology will be used to replace legacy Huawei equipment across 2,500 mobile sites in Wales and the south-west of England. This will be a multi-year phased delivery, enabling Vodafone to remove all of what the UK government has designated as high-risk vendor (HRV) technology from the radio access network

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After validating the technology in lab environments, Vodafone installed OpenRAN in rural locations, before beginning a multi-site deployment project in the Devon towns of Torquay and Exmouth. Each development stage was designed to test the technology in increasingly complex scenarios. Vodafone believes it is now able to commence the removal of HRV technology from the network without compromising customer experience.

“The rapid innovation we have seen in the OpenRAN ecosystem is truly remarkable. The industry only started working on this concept in 2016 in earnest, so to see KPIs align to traditional technology is a testament to the work which has been done,” said Vodafone UK chief network officer Andrea Dona.

“Vodafone has been at the forefront of the OpenRAN ecosystem since day one. OpenRAN is a central pillar to our network strategy for numerous reasons. Most importantly, we see this as a vehicle for transformation, opening doors that would otherwise have been closed.”

In the deployment, Vodafone is again working with Samsung Electronics and in the initial Devon roll-outs is using Samsung’s virtualised RAN (vRAN) software and OpenRAN radio solutions. Samsung is providing vRAN software supporting Multi-RAT (multiple radio access technology) — across 4G and 5G — and its O-RAN radios in the low- and mid-bands, including its Massive MIMO radios. Samsung has fully integrated its 64T64R Massive MIMO radios into OpenRAN, demonstrating its capability to handle integration, which is more complex for 64T64R Massive MIMO radios, in comparison to single-band radios. Samsung also supported the automation of vRAN deployments, easing the management of cell sites from a unified platform.

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“Now we are witnessing how innovative technologies like OpenRAN and vRAN can further bolster 5G capabilities, creating new paths and possibilities for network evolution,” said Junehee Lee, executive vice president, head of global sales & marketing, networks business at Samsung Electronics. “Following this historic milestone in Europe, we will continue working together with Vodafone to take OpenRAN networks to new heights.”

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