Open Radio Access Networking (Open RAN or O-RAN) is poised to change the way mobile infrastructure evolves for good, and the technology companies and systems integrators who are adopting it are betting on the odds that challengers to the traditional, large vendors will ultimately disrupt and win.
Open RAN is a term for industry-wide interface standards that allow RAN equipment and software from different vendors to communicate, a value proposition with obvious benefits for network operators who can choose which hardware and which software to use to compose their next-generation LTE/5G and 6G platforms faster and a much lower Capex upfront given the vendor competition.
Wind River, known for its software for intelligent systems and ability to innovate and co-create solutions with mobile operators and service providers, has been selected by Vodafone to help build Europe's first commercial Open RAN, as part of a broader ecosystem which includes Dell Technologies, NEC, Samsung, Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies.
Vodafone said in an announcement that the network, conceived and tested in their Open RAN lab in Newbury, UK, will extend with digital skills hubs in Malaga, Spain, and Dresden, Germany. The company believes the move will spark other large-scale Open RAN launches and spearhead the next wave of digital transformation across Europe.
Pioneered by Vodafone and its partners, this Open RAN effort "will drive greater innovation through a diverse and open vendor ecosystem," according to Vodafone's announcement. "It will lead to a more cost-effective, secure, energy-efficient, and customer-focused network of the future."
Wind River Studio will serve as the cloud infrastructure technology providing a distributed cloud-native platform hosting the Open RAN applications for Vodafone's next-generation Open RAN.
"A key reason Vodafone selected Wind River was based on the fact that we are the only field experienced disaggregated cloud infrastructure supplier based on our work where we are deploying our Wind River Studio technology at scale in the US market with Verizon, and where we played an instrumental role in the world's first successful end-to-end virtualized 5G data session," said Kevin Dallas, Wind River's President & CEO. "Together with an ecosystem of partner companies, we will validate and define the commercial blueprint for Vodafone's future network deployment."
Francisco (Paco) Martin, Group Head of Open RAN and Radio Network at Vodafone, shared, "We are delighted to work with Wind River on this important milestone for the first Open RAN commercial deployment in Europe. The introduction of this new solution will enable us to introduce new suppliers, such as Wind River, giving us greater flexibility when extending our mobile network. We're proud to be pioneering the development of Open RAN and will be monitoring the performance of this blueprint solution."
Vodafone is a leading telecommunications company in Europe and Africa. Its purpose is to "connect for a better future," and its expertise and scale give them a unique opportunity to drive positive change for society. As of 31 March 2021, they had over 300M mobile customers, more than 28M fixed broadband customers, over 22M TV customers, and have connected more than 123M IoT devices.
"To effectively capture business opportunities with new 5G services such as AR/VR and immersive experiences, operators need scalability, low latency, high performance, and capacity, as well as new operational models," Dallas continued. "This truly relies on the value of the Open RAN architecture, which is designed to increase flexibility, agility, speed of rollout, and help to reduce costs by using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware and new innovative containerized and open solutions."
Open RAN is the foundational principle of open interfaces and product interoperability based on initiatives from the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) and O-RAN Alliance.
Vodafone has notably been a leading operator in Open RAN, and its latest commitment to the technology has been one of the biggest in the industry. Vodafone UK now plans to deploy Open RAN in a major commitment to use this technology to both replace a large portion of the operator's legacy equipment and to diversify the supply chain with the introduction of new technologies and new vendors.
The Vodafone Open RAN blueprint is now under validation and targeted to be deployed starting this year, Dallas explained.
"It is going to be a fully containerized Single RAN (3G, 4G, and 5G) base station that places the real-time baseband processing in the cloud at the far edge of the network, close to the radio," Dallas said, "as well as handling even the most extreme low latency requirements with real-time processing at the network edge that can be scaled to meet changing demand."
Vodafone's plan is to use Open RAN to more cost-effectively extend 3G and 4G+ for the additional coverage and capacity of 5G, with the aim to be more flexible, innovative, and cost-effective, as well as to open up for new suppliers to support mobile networks.
The Vodafone Open RAN solution is distributed RAN (DRAN) with a co-located Distributed and Centralized Unit (DU/CU) on the radio site, which will provide scalability, low latency, high performance, and capacity. This containerized DRAN solution has been successfully tested with Wind River Studio.
Wind River Studio claims to offer the industry's first cloud-native platform for the development, deployment, operations, and servicing of mission-critical intelligent systems where security, safety, and reliability are required. Studio is architected to deliver digital scale across the full lifecycle through a single pane of glass to accelerate transformative business outcomes.
Starting with a distributed cloud, Studio provides a production-grade Kubernetes cloud platform that runs on a very small footprint for managing edge cloud infrastructure. Studio compiles best-in-class open-source technology to deploy and manage distributed networks.
Once a distributed cloud such as cloud RAN is deployed, Wind River Studio supports effective management of a distributed cloud system by consuming and processing data through machine-learning algorithms.
With full-stack monitoring of the cloud infrastructure cluster and services, Studio collects, analyzes, and visualizes cloud behavioral data keeping the "telco cloud" optimized while reducing operational costs.
With political and industrial policy support from the European Commission and the national governments of the EU, Open RAN has the potential to bring more European companies into this emerging market. Vodafone and the other major EU telco signatories of the Open RAN MoU believe this will help build a European ecosystem around these novel network architectures and boost the EU's global technology leadership in digital infrastructure.
Edited by Luke Bellos