Vodafone Sets Up Lab to Promote Deployment of Open RAN

Article By : John Walko

Vodaphone wants to learn how best to integrate Open RAN technology with existing networks. Separately, Mavenir received a $500M investment from Koch Industries.

Vodafone has made good on its promise of late last year that it would establish Test and Integration Laboratories across Europe to promote deployment of the disruptive open radio access network (RAN) technology.

The initial facility will be based at Newbury, the group’s UK headquarters and technology hub, and when fully staffed is expected to employ about 30 engineers. It will work with a wide range of potential but yet unidentified partners and suppliers to ensure seamless interoperability.

The Newbury center will be the first of several in Europe scheduled to focus on Open RAN issues ahead of the company deploying the technology. The operator is one of the keenest within Europe to accelerate the use of Open RAN.  Earlier this year, it signed up to a joint effort with Deutsche Telekom, Orange and Telefonica to advance that ambition.

Commenting on the facility, the first of its kind in the UK to focus on R&D into the technology, Andrea Dona, chief network officer for Vodafone UK said: “The Open RAN ecosystem is still in its infancy, and we want to spur its development. We want to avoid a Catch-22 situation, where operators wait to buy perfect products, but the Open RAN vendors need investment to perfect their products.”

She added: “Open RAN promises meaningful benefits, including innovation, competition and carbon savings. But we’ll only deliver these benefits if we support the ecosystem.”

Basically, the company wants to work with partners to understand how best to integrate the technology with existing networks. And it implies Vodafone believes this will only succeed if it, along with other operators, jointly commit to support this open “ecosystem.”

And it stressed the work in the laboratory, and the others to follow, will not be limited to interoperability tests but to ensure the equipment and software from suppliers would be commercially viable.

Vodafone committed last October to opening 2,500 Open RAN sites, the vast majority in rural parts of the country, as part of the obligation to swap out Huawei gear between 2022 and 2027. To date, the company is the only carrier committed to using the technology

The timing of the operator’s announcement is apposite, coming just days after the UK government’s recently established Telecoms Diversification Taskforce published its initial assessment of the Open RAN opportunity. It mandated that by the mid 2020s, all carriers should source 25% of their 5G equipment from either new suppliers, or from existing ones that can provide technology that will fully conform to open architectures and specifications.

Here, the taskforce’s comment refers to the specs developed and promoted by the O-RAN Alliance, the main industry group advocating openness in wireless infrastructure.

The report does not detail how any such ruling would be enforced to meet this “challenging ambition”.

Meanwhile, Mavenir, one of the early pioneers of Open RAN technology, announced that one of the most influential conglomerates in the US, Koch Industries, has invested $500 million in the firm for what it says is a significant minority stake.  The investment was through the Koch Strategic Platforms fund, and neither company has specified exactly what percentage stake KSP will get in Texas-based Mavenir   for its $500 million.

Private capital group Siris Capital, will still have a majority stake in Mavenir, which tried to float last year but in November was forced to cancel because of “market volatility.”

The documents published for the proposed flotation revealed that Intel and Nvidia also held stakes in the company.

The investment is the largest to date made by Koch in the telecoms sector.

This article was originally published on EE Times Europe.

John Walko is a technology writer and editor who has been covering the electronics industry since the early 1980s. He started tracking the sector while working on one of the UK’s oldest weekly technology titles, The Engineer, then moved to CMP’s flagship UK weekly, Electronics Times, in a variety of roles including news deputy and finally editor in chief. He then joined the online world when CMP started the EDTN Network, where he edited the daily electronics feed and was founding editor of commsdesign.com (which, over the years, has become the Wireless and Networking Designline). He was editor of EE Times Europe at its launch and subsequently held various positions on EE Times, in the latter years, covering the growing wireless and mobile sectors.

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