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Vodafone to install 2,600 open RAN base stations in UK

Vodafone Open RAN Wales.jpg

Vodafone is to deploy open radio access network (open RAN) technology on 2,600 sites in the UK, one of the biggest such investments yet.

The open RAN base stations will be in Wales and the south-west of England, said Vodafone. Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK, said: “There is one big goal: to introduce much-needed diversification into the supply of telecom equipment.”

Vodafone’s move comes three months after the company installed its first UK open RAN site, in the mid-Wales county of Powys, using software from Mavenir.

It is seen as disentangling the link between mobile operators and the few major equipment suppliers – companies such as Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia and, to some extent, Samsung and ZTE.

Huawei and ZTE have found themselves excluded from North American and European markets because of US security fears, though no credible evidence has been discovered.

“Separation – or disaggregation in the jargon – of hardware and software means a telecoms company would not have to use the same supplier for both hardware and software on a mobile site,” wrote Petty in a company blog.

“By separating these two components, specialist software companies can be brought into the fray, while general-purpose hardware can be created for deployment.”

Petty wrote: “Expanding the supplier ecosystem is critical for a couple of reasons. Firstly, a greater number of suppliers encourages competition and therefore innovation. It is also very important to keep the cost of sourcing products and services as low as sustainably possible for the ecosystem to thrive.”

He continued: “Secondly, the greater the number of suppliers, the more resilient Vodafone’s network will become as it lowers the risk of a single supplier’s change of circumstances negatively impacting the business.”

Petty warned of a “catch-22” situation. “Everyone in the industry is talking about the importance of open RAN, but the ‘sit and wait’ attitudes have gripped many telecoms operators. This is a Catch-22 situation, with the telecoms operators waiting for perfect technology before investing while the open RAN ecosystem waits for investment to perfect the technology.”

He noted that “supplier diversity is an objective for both the telecoms operators and the UK government, but the difficulty in pushing forward is the inherent traditionalist and risk-averse attitudes of the industry”.

In an interview with the Financial Times this week, Petty claimed that a move to open RAN could see the arrival of UK-based companies into the market.

“The UK could regain a foothold which it hasn’t had since the break-up of Marconi,” Petty told the paper. Marconi – formerly GEC, which owned telecoms equipment supplier GPT – collapsed in the early 2000s when BT decided it was no longer a viable supplier for its all-IP ambitions.