Vodafone is holding Europe’s first trial of Open Radio Access Network (OpenRAN) in the UK, claiming the technology could improve mobile coverage in both urban and rural parts of the country.
Currently, the telecoms equipment market is dominated by a number of major companies, with Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei the biggest players in the radio space.
According to analysts at Dell’Oro, the mobile RAN market has increased by 10 per cent over the past year.
Although other vendors, most notably Samsung, are eying up a greater share of the pie, OpenRAN could reduce the stranglehold of the ‘big three’. OpenRAN is a vendor-neutral approach with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software.
This can lower costs and increase flexibility while also allowing operators to benefit from innovations regardless of vendor. With 5G based on new core technologies such as Network Function Virtualisation (NFV), the possibilities of software-based innovation are significant.
Vodafone has held lab trials of OpenRAN in South Africa and is embarking on pilots in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Mozambique. It has already deployed OpenRAN in Turkey, where it is used to deliver 2G and 4G services.
In the UK – the first developed country where Vodafone is holding trials – OpenRAN could reduce costs of deploying 4G and 5G in rural areas while the use of ‘CrowdCell’ small cells could boost capacity in urban locations. One of the vendors being used in trials is UK-based Lime Microsystems, which has pioneered the idea of ‘open source’ mobile networks.
“We are pleased with trials of OpenRAN and are ready to fast track it into Europe as we seek to actively expand our vendor ecosystem,” declared Vodafone CEO Nick Rad. “OpenRAN improves the network economics enabling us to reach more people in rural communities and that supports our goal to build digital societies in which no-one is left behind.”