Vodafone UK bets the farm on OpenRAN

UK MNO Vodafone has revealed it’s going big on OpenRAN technology in rural base stations as a major part of its Huawei swap-out strategy.

Scott Bicheno

November 2, 2020

2 Min Read
Transmitter towers on a hill

UK MNO Vodafone has revealed it’s going big on OpenRAN technology in rural base stations as a major part of its Huawei swap-out strategy.

Huawei accounts for a significant minority of Vodafone’s total UK RAN estate, which must be replaced with vendors the US says we’re allowed to have by 2028. The operator is making a strong statement by committing to use OpenRAN technology for 35% of that swap-out, which is the most significant commitment to the nascent technology that we’re aware of among established MNOs.

Around 2,600 sites in rural Wales and the south west of England will be switched to OpenRAN by the government-imposed deadline, a process that will commence in 2022. This was first reported by the FT, but we subsequently spoke to a Vodafone spokesperson directly, to get the details. The operator is keen to be viewed as a trailblazer for OpenRAN, which increasingly looks like the most likely source of telecoms vendor diversity in the wake of Huawei’s blacklisting.

A significant lingering concern about OpenRAN is whether or not it’s up to the job, in comparison to the traditional closed, proprietary solutions from the big vendors. Vodafone’s position seems to be that it already reckons OpenRAN can handle rural deployments, but still has a way to go before it can be trusted with high capacity urban use-cases. One bottleneck seems to be the chip side of things, so recent news concerning Qualcomm and Xylinx should help with that.

However, that’s just speculation at this stage, because Vodafone hasn’t named any of the vendors that will help it with this initiative. We were told, however, that it’s committing a fair bit to OpenRAN R&D and that it definitely sees a significant role for the technology across its entire radio estate. It seems the UK government has actually been of some help in this matter too, with the creation of a taskforce charged with improving vendor diversity considered a step in the right direction.

Vodafone quite likes trying to set the agenda when it comes to emerging technology trends. For years it banged on about NB-IoT, but that has gone quiet of late. OpenRAN suffers from the classic paradox of new technologies in that companies are reluctant to invest much in being first movers. So Voda deserves credit for putting its money where its mouth is regarding OpenRAN and it will be watched closely by other operators looking for reassurance before taking the plunge.

About the Author(s)

Scott Bicheno

As the Editorial Director of Telecoms.com, Scott oversees all editorial activity on the site and also manages the Telecoms.com Intelligence arm, which focuses on analysis and bespoke content.
Scott has been covering the mobile phone and broader technology industries for over ten years. Prior to Telecoms.com Scott was the primary smartphone specialist at industry analyst Strategy Analytics’. Before that Scott was a technology journalist, covering the PC and telecoms sectors from a business perspective.
Follow him @scottbicheno

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