Vodafone heads to home of Fawlty Towers for giant open RAN plan

Vodafone heads to home of Fawlty Towers for giant open RAN plan

Santiago Tenorio Vodafone.jpg

Vodafone is to build an open RAN mobile network around the Torquay area of south-west England.

The service will cover 16-20 sites around the area, on the coast of south Devon, 250km west of London, said Santiago Tenorio (pictured), Vodafone’s director of network architecture.

“This will be our next milestone,” said Tenorio. Vodafone has previously tried out open RAN in mainly rural areas. Its first in Europe was two years ago, using software from Mavenir. In late 2020 the company announced an aim to install 2,600 open RAN base stations will be in Wales and the south-west of England, an area that includes Torquay – famous as the fictional home of the BBC comedy show Fawlty Towers.

But parts of the Torquay area are urban, said Tenorio, which gives Vodafone the chance to deploy massive MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) technology using open RAN in a live network. Massive MIMO is seen as essential to high-density urban services. Torquay and its neighbours – collectively known as Torbay – have a combined population of 134,500.

Vodafone plans to see the installation working in the first half of 2023, said Tenorio, using software and hardware from Samsung and massive MIMO technology from NEC.

“By 2030, 30% of our network in Europe will be open RAN,” he said. Open RAN is complex, but “the complexity we expected is the complexity we’re finding”.

Tenorio and colleagues – CTO Johan Wibergh and director of digital engineering Ahmed El Sayed – told a media briefing in London on Wednesday that Vodafone is now developing its technology strategy internationally, rather than country-by-country.

“We have 34,000 people,” said Wibergh, including software developers in Egypt, India and Romania. “We are now a common team across Europe.” He added that the technology operation also works closely with Vodafone group companies in Africa, which use the Vodacom and Safaricom brands.

“We are modernising the network, and seeing the cloudification of the network, with standardised hardware and software.” The company had 9,000 software engineers, with a target to increase that to 11,500 by March 2023.

The group mainly uses Google Cloud, but adds other cloud services when demand is high: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Oracle, for example, when the latest iPhone launch increased pressure to sign up new customers.

“We’re seeing 95% of our traffic in Europe is now 4G and 5G,” said Wibergh: “And 5G is five times more cost-effective.”