Vodafone trials new Open RAN chips with Nokia, Arm and HPE

Vodafone has taken another step on its quest to establish silicon diversity in the Open RAN ecosystem.

Nick Wood

May 8, 2024

3 Min Read

The UK-based telco group – in partnership with Nokia, Arm, and HPE – has undertaken trials of Open RAN network architecture running on Arm's Ampere general-purpose processors.

In case anyone has been living under a rock for the last few years, one of the potential downsides to Open RAN – one that threatens to undermine its mission to consign vendor lock-in to the past – is that due to Intel's strong position in the server and RAN markets, all these networks will ultimately come to rely on Intel processors, to the detriment of competition and innovation.

Similarly to the PC market, where Intel faces competition from AMD and Arm, an effort is underway within the telco industry to ensure that when it comes to Open RAN silicon, Intel is not the only party in town.

Another motivation is that Open RAN still needs to prove it represents a viable alternative to traditional RAN. It is therefore preferable to have multiple companies full of clever people trying to develop the best possible Open RAN solutions.

As one of the biggest backers of Open RAN, it is in Vodafone's interest to stimulate chipset choice.

To that end, last October, Vodafone partnered with Arm to develop a new chipset optimised for Open RAN base stations. The goal is to produce processors that can go toe-to-toe with Intel, and make them available to the wider industry.

This week's trial with Nokia and HPE is all part of the plan.

Taking place at Nokia's Open RAN innovation centre in Dallas, they were able to a complete an end-to-end layer 3 (L3) data call using Arm processors and HPE's ProLiant RL300 server. Nokia provided a layer 1 (L1) accelerator, RAN software, the 5G standalone (SA) core network, massive MIMO radios, and network management software.

"We are excited to collaborate with Nokia, Arm, and HPE in this live demonstration, and the initial results have been promising, paving the way for future commercialisation," said Francisco Martin, head of Open RAN at Vodafone.

Voda's effort to grow the ecosystem doesn't begin and end with Arm.

This February, Vodafone and Samsung – a major supplier for Voda's European Open RAN rollout – carried out an end-to-end Open RAN data call using AMD processors. This one took place at a Samsung lab in Korea, and used AMD EPYC 8004 Series chips running on Supermicro's Telco/Edge servers. During the demo, they recorded peak throughput of more than 1 Gbps.

Meanwhile, it's also worth remembering that amid all this collaboration with AMD and Arm, Voda is still more than happy to use Intel as well.

The two have been working together on Open RAN since at least 2021. Intel's name cropped up when Voda opened its Open RAN R&D lab in Málaga, Spain in 2022. In March, Vodafone and Intel extended their partnership to cover advanced algorithms that promise to improve the performance and reduce the power consumption of Open RAN silicon.

"Vodafone is dedicated to supporting the development and adoption of Open RAN platforms by fostering a diverse ecosystem of silicon solutions," said Martin this week. "The approach offers numerous benefits, including increased choice, enhanced energy efficiency, higher network capacity, and improved performance in wireless networks."

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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