Orange and Vodafone add 2G into Romania Open RAN trial

Orange and Vodafone are heralding progress in their ongoing shared Open RAN pilot project in Romania, adding 2G capabilities into the mix.

Mary Lennighan

May 22, 2024

2 Min Read

But while it’s all well and good for telecoms operators to publicly report their progress with new technologies, this announcement also serves as a further reminder that Open RAN – and adjacent developments – is not moving as quickly as we might have hoped.

Orange and Vodafone have been working together in Romania for more than a year. They announced plans to build an Open RAN network with RAN sharing in parts of Europe where they both have networks in February last year, earmarking Romania as the location of a pilot project. They committed to deploying the first sites in a rural location near Bucharest before the end of the year and, true to their word, in October completed 4G Open RAN calls over a cluster of shared sites.

They pledged to extend the pilot to include 2G and 5G technology and have now done that... or part of it. This latest announcement states that the operators expanded pilot includes "fully integrated 2G virtualized RAN (vRAN) technology, an innovation representing an international first over a shared operational network (RAN sharing)."

We can't vouch for the 'world first' claim, but it seems highly likely.

As the telcos themselves point out, the addition of 2G is an important development. By virtualising 2G networks, operators can avoid the need to maintain legacy 2G networks running on specialised hardware. There are still many IoT applications running on 2G networks, and the technology remains important in rural areas where 4G and 5G coverage can be patchy, at best. Vodafone and Orange did not specifically address this point in their announcement though.

They did, however, refer to the importance of virtualised RAN across 2G, 4G and 5G networks, particularly in areas where the shutdown of 3G is either imminent or has already happened. Orange revealed earlier this year that it will begin shuttering its 3G infrastructure in Romania in June with a view to pulling the plug completely by 2025 as part of a broader move to switch off 2G and 3G across all of its European operations by the end of the decade.

By which time we might even have a semblance of an Open RAN ecosystem in Europe.

"Over the past six months, both operators have gained local operational experience in managing an active Open RAN network used in real operating conditions, contributing to increased confidence in the maturity of virtualized networks," Orange and Vodafone said, of their Romanian endeavours.

"This observation period has allowed for a comprehensive comparison between Open RAN and traditional RAN networks and has demonstrated similar performance between the two options," they added, a statement that only reinforces what many industry watchers are thinking: that industry players are spending a lot of time looking at Open RAN but perhaps not enough actually doing it.

About the Author(s)

Mary Lennighan

Mary has been following developments in the telecoms industry for more than 20 years. She is currently a freelance journalist, having stepped down as editor of Total Telecom in late 2017; her career history also includes three years at CIT Publications (now part of Telegeography) and a stint at Reuters. Mary's key area of focus is on the business of telecoms, looking at operator strategy and financial performance, as well as regulatory developments, spectrum allocation and the like. She holds a Bachelor's degree in modern languages and an MA in Italian language and literature.

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