Vodafone has become the first UK mobile operator to switch on a live Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) 4G site, which it says will enable the introduction of more suppliers for mobile networks.
The site is located at the Royal Welsh Showground in Powys, Wales, and will deliver 4G services to the town of Builth Wells, which sits in the Wye Valley, and has a population of 2,568.
“This is our first live OpenRAN site in the UK, and that’s an important milestone,” said Scott Petty, CTO at Vodafone UK. “This new approach has the ability to make us less dependent on current larger technology suppliers, and find ways to reduce the cost of rolling out mobile coverage. Open RAN can also help close the digital divide between urban and rural Britain.”
In July, Petty told a defence committee parliamentary session that the company was trialing Open RAN, but said it would be years until it could envisage using Open RAN in a large scale capacity.
“We are trialling Open RAN in the UK,” Petty told the committee. “We believe by 2023, we may be able to deploy some scale in the rural parts of our network, but it will take until 2025 to be able to deploy at real scale in our denser urban and suburban areas.”
Petty said that Vodafone needed to learn how to operate those tools and technologies, and make sure they’re secure, fully validated, and tested for all of the different vendors that the company uses, before it could be used on a larger scale.
As things stand, Nokia and Ericsson are the primary tech vendors for mobile network operators looking to upgrade sites, but there is a hope that OpenRAN could be the first, tentative step towards a ‘white box’ approach to radio equipment, where devices could be assembled using parts from multiple suppliers by a third-party vendor.
“Open RAN gives mobile companies the flexibility to use multiple suppliers in their 4G and 5G networks,” said Matt Warman, Digital Infrastructure Minister. “This is vital to help the market grow, build resilience and give people fast, reliable and secure internet connections wherever they live and work.
“I congratulate Vodafone on its first live Open RAN site in the UK that will benefit people in Powys. This technology can make a real difference in improving connectivity in rural communities and I look forward to continuing to work closely with Vodafone and other operators on our plans to diversify the telecoms supply chain.”