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Press Release | 21 Apr 2021

OpenRAN: Vodafone to open new UK research and testing lab

OpenRAN: Vodafone to open new UK research and testing lab

The Newbury-based lab puts the UK at the forefront of industry-changing OpenRAN technology development.

  • Test and Validation Lab to be the first in the UK for OpenRAN, a technology set to revolutionise the telecommunications industry.
  • OpenRAN to make it easier for technology companies to enter the market; act as a catalyst for innovation; and help Vodafone reduce the carbon footprint of its network.
  • Vodafone Lab puts UK at the centre of the development of OpenRAN technology.

Vodafone has announced the launch of an OpenRAN Test and Validation Lab on its Newbury campus to support the developing OpenRAN ecosystem for the telecommunications industry. The lab will be the first dedicated research and development facility for OpenRAN in the UK and will be a boost for the role that the UK plays in the development of this important new technology.

OpenRAN technology separates hardware from software meaning more flexibility for mobile operators. The approach will see many companies providing the components that make up a mobile network site, where previously one vendor would have delivered the whole site.

The technology is widely accepted as a disruptor for the telecoms industry, and Vodafone is one of the industry leaders in supporting the development of this vendor ecosystem.

The Test and Validation Lab follows Vodafone’s existing commitments to the OpenRAN ecosystem. In October, Vodafone made a commitment to develop 2,500 mobile sites with OpenRAN technology, providing commercial incentive to the OpenRAN ecosystem. The lab will initially employ 30 engineers, and can grow as more partners are brought in.

Flexible architecture

OpenRAN is based on the concept of interoperability, meaning telecoms operators would be able to source equipment from a wider variety of suppliers. Most Radio Access Network (RAN) technology today is built on proprietary designs, which can tie operators to a small number of vendors. OpenRAN standardises the development of both hardware and software components to ensure all elements are interoperable.

OpenRAN technologies are an important step to improving vendor diversity. This in turn will improve the cost-effectiveness, resilience and security of network deployment.

There are several benefits to this approach, including:

  • Vendor diversity: By ensuring there is interoperability for all hardware and software components, vendors can specialise in specific areas rather than having to produce end-to-end solutions. In today’s vendor ecosystem, having to focus on so many areas means many innovative companies cannot work with telecoms operators. OpenRAN allows for the development of specialist providers, increasing vendor diversity and making telecoms supply chains more resilient and secure.
  • Innovation: With more specialist vendors emerging, investment can be dedicated to more specific workstreams to encourage innovation. Increased competition will also act as a catalyst for innovation.
  • Environmental impact: Vodafone can begin to optimise specific elements of the RAN supply chain. This includes improving its environmental impact, which is simpler when there are different components of the RAN ecosystem.

Embracing the OpenRAN ecosystem also means Vodafone can focus more on software development and software-defined operations. By ensuring any software and hardware components of the network are vendor agnostic and interoperable, upgrades to orchestration, management and automation software do not necessarily mean hardware components have to be replaced.

Not only does this mean upgrades can be more time- and cost-efficient, but they can also be performed more frequently. This change in approach will allow Vodafone to dedicate more resource and investment to software development.

Andrea Donà, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, said:

“The OpenRAN 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 OpenRAN vendors need investment to perfect their products. This is why we are announcing this investment in a new R&D lab, as well as committing to 2,500 OpenRAN sites in the UK countryside.

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

Matt Warman, Minister for Digital Infrastructure, said:

“Vodafone is paving the way in building mobile networks with a variety of different equipment suppliers and its Newbury facility will put the UK at the forefront of the telecoms revolution – creating new jobs and opportunities for other firms.

“I thank the company for its continued support of our £250m strategy to diversify the 5G market which will help us build confidence in the security and resilience of this next-generation technology.”

– ends –

About Vodafone UK

Vodafone UK is a technology communications company that connects people, businesses and devices to help our customers benefit from digital innovation. Our services span mobile, fixed line connections, home and office broadband, and the Internet of Things (IoT).

We have a strong track record as a tech pioneer, making the UK’s first mobile phone call, sending the first text message, and making the UK’s first live holographic call using 5G in 2018. We were also the first to start carrying live 5G traffic from a site in Salford, Greater Manchester. As of June 2021, we have 5G in 340 locations across Europe – 100 in the UK and 240 across Germany, Spain, Italy and Ireland. Our 4G network coverage currently reaches over 99% of the UK population.

Today, Vodafone serves more than 18 million mobile and fixed-line customers in the UK. To help deliver Gigabit UK, our full-fibre broadband roll-out programme now covers 15 UK towns and cities through partnerships with CityFibre and Openreach.

Sustainability is also at the heart of what we do: as of 1 July 2021, 100% of the grid electricity we use in the UK is certified to be from renewable sources.

For more information about Vodafone UK please visit: www.vodafone.co.uk.

Vodafone UK Media Relations

Telephone: +44 (0) 1635 693 693

Email: ukmediarelations@vodafone.com

Twitter: @VodafoneUKNews

Website: https://newscentre.vodafone.co.uk

Vodafone Limited

Registered Office: Vodafone House, The Connection, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 2FN

Registered in England No: 1471587