Vodafone installs Mavenir open RAN in UK first
Vodafone has switched on what it says it the first open radio access network (open RAN or ORAN) site in the UK.
The first mast, using software from Mavenir, is at the Royal Welsh Showground in Powys, mid Wales – though the agricultural event was virtual-only this year, because of the pandemic.
“This is our first live OpenRAN site in the UK, and that’s an important milestone,” said Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK. “This new approach has the ability to make us less dependent on current larger technology suppliers, and find ways to reduce the cost of rolling out mobile coverage.”
The term, “larger technology suppliers”, is a coded reference to giant vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia and – more particularly – Huawei, which the UK government has identified as a so-called high-risk vendor.
Though operators are turning to classic IT suppliers for their core network needs, radio equipment “has never been open in the cellular world”, Mavenir CMO Stefano Cantarelli told Capacity yesterday. Operators “are locked into one vendor’s hardware and software”.
The exclusion of Huawei – as well as of its Chinese rival, ZTE – from the market has caused concern among operators. The UK government has banned the installation of Huawei 5G equipment after the end of 2020, and is insisting that all existing Huawei 5G equipment be replaced by 2027.
The Vodafone open RAN installation in Wales is 4G only, said the company.
It said that, with the first open RAN site now live, it will work to identify communities across the UK where they can more economically introduce voice and high-speed data using the new technology.
The move was welcomed by Matt Warman, digital infrastructure minister in the UK government, which has urged the move to open RAN as a way of giving mobile operators more resilience. With Huawei and ZTE excluded, only Ericsson and Nokia are available as suppliers, though Samsung has also supplied the market.
“Open RAN gives mobile companies the flexibility to use multiple suppliers in their 4G and 5G networks,” said Warman. “This is vital to help the market grow, build resilience and give people fast, reliable and secure internet connections wherever they live and work.”
Capacity understands that Three UK originally chose Samsung for its RAN, but then moved to Huawei – and now it is switching to Ericsson.