Vodafone has made a move that could put an end to the global dominance of the three main telecom equipment providers – Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia – by starting trials on open access radio technology in the UK. The company is the first wireless carrier to run European tests of Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN), a cellular infrastructure technology that may increase the number of companies supplying telecom network equipment and assist in connecting more of the world’s most remote communities using lower cost systems.
In a statement, Vodafone said that “the global supply of telecom network equipment has become concentrated in a small handful of companies over the past few years” and added that a wider choice of suppliers will increase flexibility and innovation, thus helping to address some of the cost challenges of internet services in rural communities.
Telecom operators use RAN infrastructure, masts and antennae to carry mobile traffic. OpenRAN reduces the cost of providing internet and voice services by standardizing the design of hardware and software used to support the infrastructure, thus expanding the range of the companies able to supply different components. The company said that this technology is partly based on work Vodafone carried out in developing a “small cell” system for cities called Open CrowdCell, which is currently used in Spain and Turkey.
Nick Read, CEO of Vodafone Group, said, “We are pleased with trials of OpenRAN and are ready to fast track it into Europe as we seek to actively expand our vendor ecosystem. OpenRAN improves the network economics enabling us to reach more people in rural communities and that supports our goal to build digital societies in which no-one is left behind.”
Furthermore, Vodafone has also announced the launch of OpenRAN technology trials in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Mozambique, to make mobile calls and access data. The company has already undertaken lab trials of OpenRAN with Vodacom South Africa and has deployed the technology in Turkey to deliver 2G and 4G services to customers in both urban and rural parts of the country. Vodafone’s trial sites across the three countries will provide 2G, 3G and 4G services, with 5G delivered over OpenRAN a possiblity in the future.
In addition, Vodafone has started working with a number of new OpenRAN technology experts, including American companies Parallel Wireless and Mavenir, and UK-based Lime Microsystems for Open CrowdCell.