Telefónica, NEC scaling 4 open RAN pilots to 800 sites

Telefónica is tapping Japan’s NEC for open RAN know-how, with plans to deploy live pilots in four major markets before turning up commercial use in 2022.

The open RAN pilots are slated for Telefónica’s core markets of Spain, Germany, the U.K. and Brazil. Starting next year the pilots will scale to at least 800 sites leading up to commercial deployment.  

NEC is leading integration and validation for the pre-commercial trials in a multi-vendor environment, which includes NEC’s open 5G massive MIMO radio units among other products, along with hardware and software from additional industry partners. This summer NEC introduced cloud-native open RAN software to support its digital beamforming of massive MIMO (a technology that helps boost and optimize network capacity), expected to be available next year.

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Telefónica, meanwhile, said it aims to hit 50% radio network growth based on open RAN by 2025. It was one of four major European operators that signed a Memorandum of Understanding earlier this year committing to deploy open radio access network (open RAN) solutions. Deutsche Telekom, Orange, and Vodafone also signed the MoU, pledging to work together with ecosystem partners, industry bodies and European policymakers to help foster open RAN to ensure products are on a competitive playing field with traditional RAN.  

Alongside the newly announced NEC trials, Telefónica and the vendor plan to validate open RAN technologies and use cases focused on automation in Madrid at the operator’s Technology and Automation Lab.

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One of the focus areas is use-cases that leverage an AI-powered RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC), which helps optimize the radio network and can introduce new third-party applications (called xApps). Among NEC’s experience in that domain is work this summer with Japan’s NTT Docomo to jointly develop a RIC platform for 5G use cases, tapping NEC subsidiary Netcracker. Nokia, VMware, India’s STL and others also are working on open RIC solutions.

Vodafone in June highlighted VMware’s RIC platform in an open RAN demo that ran 5G Multi-User MIMO using software from Cohere Technologies to achieve a capacity boost. Partners Capgemini Engineering, Intel, and Telecom Infra Project (TIP) also participated in that lab test.

RELATED: Vodafone boosts 5G capacity in open RAN demo

Additionally, Telefónica and NEC are looking to explore service lifecycle automation, testing and deployment automation with Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) framework, and power savings efficiency.

“Open networks are undeniably the key to driving network evolution in the 5G era and to sustaining and fulfilling our mission of consistently delivering superior experiences to our consumer and enterprise customers,” said Enrique Blanco, CTIO at Telefónica, in a statement. “Through our long term engagement with NEC, we have firsthand knowledge of their technological and practical competence as well as their constant customer-first approach, and we are confident they are the right partners for this highly strategic initiative.”

In the U.K., NEC’s Global Open RAN Center of Excellence (CoE) will head up integration and testing of the multi-vendor ecosystem and co-developed use cases. Telefónica already completed an open RAN trial at the CoE in the U.K. with NEC using Altiostar vRAN software.