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October 9, 2023
Operators Vodafone and Orange conducted a joint pilot ‘with the first real-life experience of 4G calls’ over a cluster of shared commercial network sites based on Open RAN in Romania.
The pilot took place in a rural area near Bucharest and follows an announcement in February that the operators would build an Open RAN with RAN sharing in some rural parts of Europe where they both have mobile networks.
The commercial traffic pilot purports to demonstrate the benefits of a virtualised radio access network based on Open RAN standardised interfaces, including the ability to make remote software changes.
It’s apparently based on experience gained from Vodafone UK’s Open RAN deployment and integration tests in Orange’s Open RAN laboratory in France. The stack included a Samsung commercial virtualised RAN solution, a Wind River abstraction layer on top of the hardware to deploy and scale the RAN software, and Dell PowerEdge servers.
Following these 4G calls, Vodafone and Orange say they will soon introduce 2G and then 5G over shared Open RAN sites. This will be the first time 2G radio software is fully integrated within a virtualised Open RAN environment in Europe, they claim.
“Alongside Orange we have developed a model which will serve as a blueprint to extend mobile networks to rural communities across Europe,” said Alberto Ripepi, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone. “Open RAN sharing will allow us to reduce costs by sharing hardware components while independently managing our own RAN software in the cloud to be able to offer differentiated services to our respective customers.”
Bruno Zerbib, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Orange, added: “This first pilot deployment of Open RAN within Orange is an important milestone to demonstrate Open RAN is now mature for roll-out in brownfield networks. It opens the door for wider scale deployments across the group, and paves the way towards fully automated and intelligent networks.”
There are certainly plenty of limited trials and pilots involving Open RAN deployments in recent months from many players in the industry, and Vodafone has been one of the more obviously energetic operators in that regard. Alongside this news, it also announced today a commercial 5G Open RAN pilot in Italy.
In terms of its wider ambitions for the technology, in an interview Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone’s head of network strategy, Light Reading today reported that a tender for its RAN equipment is now set to be announced by early next year at the very latest, which apparently is set to reserve a huge role for Open RAN tech. “In Europe it’s 100,000 sites and so we’ll put that out to tender and our ambition is to reach 30% open RAN,” said Tenorio.
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