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Virgin Media O2 Extends Nokia RAN Deal: Enabling 5G Expansion and Exploring Cloud RAN

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Virgin Media O2 has announced an extension of its Radio Access Network (RAN) deal with Nokia for a three-year contract that covers the southern regions of the UK, including London. This agreement involves Nokia supplying equipment from its AirScale portfolio, notably its Single RAN solution that allows one base station to operate 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G networks simultaneously.

Nokia will also provide its Habrok massive MIMO radios, AirScale Baseband, and Interleaved Passive Active Antennas (IPAA) powered by Nokia’s ReefShark System-on-Chip (SoC) technology, which reportedly consumes 30% less energy and reduces weight and volume by 40%.

Virgin Media O2’s CTO, Jeanie York, stated that the company “continues to invest in their network, upgrading and expanding the 4G and 5G networks to customers across the country.” The goal for VMO2 is to cover 50% of the population with 5G this year. York explained that the ongoing partnership with Nokia would enable them to deliver improved 5G with higher speeds and lower latency, setting up for future growth in line with customers’ evolving needs and demands.

An intriguing aspect of this deal is the option for VMO2 to launch a pilot of Nokia’s RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC), which could pave the way for VMO2 to showcase new 5G use cases and pilot a 5G cloud RAN service in the future. This development is particularly interesting since VMO2 had awarded a 5G standalone (SA) deal to Ericsson in July 2021 and another contract to Ericsson in March 2022 to upgrade its 4G and 5G networks across the UK and Ireland. These deals also included the option to try Ericsson’s Cloud RAN solution.

Expanding its partnership with Nokia and potentially piloting its RIC signals that multiple RAN suppliers may coexist for communications providers like VMO2 once they transition to cloud-native networking. Tommi Uitto, president of Mobile Networks at Nokia, emphasized that the extended deal exemplified Virgin Media O2’s trust in Nokia’s technology leadership and would enable more people to benefit from enhanced mobile connectivity delivered by the latest generation of AirScale solutions, laying the groundwork for the United Kingdom’s digital transformation.

Apart from testing both Ericsson and Nokia’s cloud RAN solutions, VMO2 has made steady progress with Open RAN, further diversifying vendors. In April 2021, VMO2 selected network software maker Mavenir to provide its cloud-native, open virtual RAN (vRAN) solution for sites throughout its footprint, building on previous partnerships with NEC and Rakuten. Since March 2022, VMO2 has been using virtualization specialist VMware’s Telco Cloud Infrastructure solutions for designing, building, testing, and implementing virtualized network functions.

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