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Vodafone Switches On Open RAN, Tapping Wind River For 5G Infrastructure Innovation

By Matthew Vulpis

Today, technological innovations are rapidly reshaping the landscape of a variety of industries, and none more so than the introduction of 5G. 5G is a next-generation wireless network technology that's expected to change the way people live and work. While 5G networks began rolling out in the United States and around the world in 2018, the technology is currently spreading like wildfire throughout the globe, as consumers and companies alike realize the supreme benefits of 5G, such as the potential speed of 20 Gbps is a significant draw and its low latency of 1 millisecond or less.

The global market for 5G infrastructure was recorded at $12.9 billion in 2021, but predictions expect this number to increase rapidly, expected to grow at a CAGR of 55 percent; the market for 5G is estimated to hit $115.4 billion by 2026. 5G has also opened the growth of corresponding technology applications, such as Open RAN.

Open RAN is a push for industry standards in the design of gear that's used in the radio-access segment of telecom cellular networks and is particularly relevant to the buildout of 5G infrastructure. It's a collaboration of equipment makers and telecoms in various working groups to solve this interoperability problem by creating standards. As long as the equipment meets open RAN standards, it should be compatible with gear made by any other vendor whose gear also meets the standards.

Virtualization and cloud are concepts and approaches that are complementary to Open RAN. These approaches separate software from hardware, meaning more flexibility for mobile operators. Where previously one vendor would have delivered the whole solution, OpenRAN enables telecom operators to work with more specialist suppliers. Not only will this diversify the telecoms supply chain, adding resilience to Critical National Infrastructure, it will also act as a catalyst for innovation. This could result in more energy-efficient telecoms equipment, as well as increasing the speed at which mobile operators can deploy next-generation networks.

Overall, Open RAN is expected to grow nicely alongside 5G, with experts predicting the technology to generate USD 3.2 billion in just a couple of years by 2024. And with the continued rollout of 5G set to ramp up, more companies around the world are looking to expand their Open RAN capabilities for both their own benefit and the benefit of their consumers.

Recently, Vodafone, a technology communications company that connects people, businesses, and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation, announced that they have switched on the UK's first 5G OpenRAN. The site in Bath is the first of 2,500 5G and 4G OpenRAN sites that Vodafone has committed to, and a major step in supporting the Government's ambition to accelerate the development of the OpenRAN ecosystem.

"This is the beginning of a new chapter for the mobile industry. Our team has been working tirelessly to take OpenRAN technology from a theory in our lab to our customers in the real world – it's remarkable how much has been achieved in such a short period of time," said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK. "OpenRAN as a concept is only five years old, and we're already fundamentally changing how we deploy connectivity infrastructure. This is a watershed moment in the telecoms industry and a catalyst for change and evolution."

The installation of equipment at the site marks a number of firsts, including:

  • The beginning of the first scaled OpenRAN project in Europe, with 2,500 sites committed by 2027
  • The first 5G OpenRAN site
  • The first time OpenRAN technology has been deployed on a UK macro site to carry live customer traffic

"Vodafone's OpenRAN leadership is game-changing for the industry, and Wind River is proud to partner with Vodafone on this important milestone to realize the benefits of OpenRAN," said Paul Miller, Chief Technology Officer, Wind River. "As the de facto infrastructure for OpenRAN/5G vRAN and only 5G solution that is commercially deployed at scale, Wind River Studio enables flexible networks and offers validated architectures to help service providers quickly and reliably deploy new services with industry-leading total cost of ownership."

As part of the First Site Installation (FSI), the following OpenRAN-compliant technology will be deployed:

  • Samsung virtualized Radio Access Network (vRAN) Solutions, as well as technical, product, and integration support
  • Dell open hardware servers
  • Intel technologies to enable optimized solutions, including Intel Xeon processors, workload acceleration, and connectivity
  • Wind River Studio for management of containerized OpenRAN CU/DU workloads, automation, orchestration, and lifecycle management of network functions

Capgemini Engineers and Keysight Technologies have provided testing and integration services in the Vodafone lab to ensure interoperability of the multi-vendor ecosystem. Once technologies and vendors have been verified as OpenRAN-compliant, deployment of equipment becomes a much simpler task.

OpenRAN 4G and 5G antennas from Samsung and NEC will be deployed from mid-2022. Once interoperability tests for these radio units have been completed in the lab, the units can be deployed in a 'plug and play' manner on the existing OpenRAN infrastructure.

"This phone call, the first in the UK to be made using 5G OpenRAN infrastructure, marks a big step forward for innovation in UK telecoms. OpenRAN will have an important role to play in the future of our mobile networks, and I congratulate Vodafone for being the first to make it happen," said Julia Lopez, Digital Infrastructure Minister, the Department of Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. "The government is investing in the technology through our £250 million diversification strategy so we can deliver the amazing benefits of 5G for people and businesses with more diverse, resilient, and secure equipment in our networks."

Edited by Luke Bellos

Content Contributor

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