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Vodafone announces slew of ambitious Open RAN plans with multiple partners

The operator is looking beyond accelerating its own Open RAN goals to those of Europe and the global industry writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

October saw a raft of announcements from Vodafone. First, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO signed an MoU agreeing to cooperate on harmonising mobile operators’ system integration and test processes. This includes testing criteria and experiences to create common test scripts – software instructions to conduct tests – so vendors can avoid duplicating effort arising from every operator doing everything slightly differently. Their work will adhere to the specifications of the 3GPP and the ORAN Alliance and is intended to improve interoperability between vendors’ systems across 4G and 5G Open RAN networks globally.

The two companies also aim to maximize the benefits of the Service Management Orchestrator – part of the Open RAN Network Operation Support System – and the RAN Intelligent Controller platform (SMO/RIC). To these ends, they will identify the key features of SMO/RIC, determine their probable evolution and define the underlying software architecture.

Through their joint efforts, Vodafone and NTT DOCOMO want to lower total cost of ownership (TCO) for operators by enhancing the efficiency of RAN technologies, integration processes, AI and machine learning, and automation techniques, with a view to publishing a whitepaper.

Expanding Europe’s ecosystem

The operator said it will partner Nokia to advance the Open RAN ecosystem in Europe. They claim their efforts mark “a significant milestone for the mobile industry and a major boost to Europe’s competitiveness”.

They are to combine Nokia’s ReefShark system on chip (SoC) technology, developed in cooperation with Marvell, with commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) servers in a solution based on the ORAN Alliance’s specifications. They say this will put their solution’s performance on a par with traditional mobile radio networks. Nokia’s ReefShark SoC boosts Layer-1 processing which is integral to connecting users to mobile base stations and support high levels of data traffic.

 

Commercial pilot in Germany

Open RAN should allow for far great levels of automation than have been possible previously: Vodafone has set a target of 30% of its European networks running on Open RAN by 2030 and announced it will launch a commercial Open RAN pilot in Germany after successful field tests earlier this year in Plauen. The pilot will use software and radio equipment from Samsung, and will take place in south-east Bavaria and north-east Lower Saxony, and from there be rolled out across Germany over the next two to three years.

Santiago Tenorio, Director of Network Architecture for Vodafone, noted the pilot “brings timely resilience to the supply chain, allowing us to work with a greater number and more diverse pool of suppliers. Greater competition also encourages innovation, leading to a better mobile experience for our customers.”

 

Marvell – another starring role

 Vodafone, Samsung Electronics Co. and Marvell are also to collaborate in an effort to accelerate the performance and adoption of 5G Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) across Europe. They will use Marvell’s OCTEON Fusion processor/accelerator which is optimised to carry out the complex calculations normally carried out by central processing units (CPUs) in existing virtualized mobile networks.

When combined with Samsung’s vRAN software, the chip speeds up the data processing for complex radio network functions, “enabling Open RAN to deliver features, security and performance like those of a traditional mobile radio networks”. Further improvements are promised, but the energy efficiency of mobile sites should improve immediately after deployment through needing fewer CPUs.

Boosting Massive MIMO

Accelerators can also deliver Massive MIMO to serve many customers in dense urban areas such as shopping centres, sports arenas and business parks – and Vodafone is hedging its bets, announcing the next stage of its collaboration with Qualcomm Technologies.

The two are to develop, test and integrate 5G distributed and radio units with Massive MIMO capabilities powered by the Qualcomm X100 5G RAN Accelerator Card and the Qualcomm QRU100 5G RAN Platform. The solutions are expected to use less power and reduce total cost of ownership (TCO) for Massive MIMO with 64T64R and 32T32R capabilities.

This joint announcement builds on the companies’ commitment in April 2021 to develop technical blueprints to help equipment suppliers build 5G networks on Open RAN technology.

Cutting the cost of upgrading 4G sites to 5G

And finally, Vodafone is deploying new disaggregated cell site gateway (DCSG) routers to cut the cost of upgrading 4G cell sites to 5G and of bringing new ones online. The routers link mobile sites to the core network. The DCSG routers are based on the same principles as Open Radio Area Network (RAN) equipment. Santiago Tenorio, Director of Vodafone Network Architecture, said, “By opening the door to greater vendor diversity and network automation, we can stay ahead of the curve and bring new mobile sites online more quickly and cheaply.”

Vodafone is using hardware from Edgecore Networks Corporation, a subsidiary of Taiwanese company Accton Technology Corporation, with software from the German networking and software company ADVA, for the roll-out in Turkey. The Vodafone DCSG router is described as “easy to install”, and software changes and capacity upgrades can be made automatically, making it cheaper to extend coverage.

Hard on the heels of that announcement by Vodafone, Orange said it has jointly created the world’s first disaggregated switch with Edgecore Networks that has accessible software. The developers code all the Edgecore switch’s functions using the principles of the SONiC (Software for Open Networking in the Cloud) open source movement.

Orange stated, “This bold move towards disaggregation and community open-source software is part of a major upgrade of Orange’s access network infrastructure”.

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