BT, Nokia launch open RAN trial in U.K.

BT is demonstrating its commitment to open radio access network (RAN) technology by pursuing a trial with Nokia in Hull, a city in the northeastern part of the U.K.

BT will install Nokia’s RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) for Open RAN across a number of sites to optimize network performance for customers of its mobile network, EE.

In a press release, BT said it’s committed to sustained investment in all technologies that deliver the best possible customer experience, including using open architecture wherever network performance can be enhanced.

In addition to this trial, BT will open a dedicated Open RAN Innovation Center at its Adastral Park facility later this year. The center will provide opportunities for large and small vendors to develop and prove their equipment and provide a platform for open architecture progress across all network elements. 

RELATED: Nokia wins 5G RAN deal with BT

“Our Open RAN trial with Nokia is one of many investments we are making to boost the performance of our market-leading 4G and 5G EE network and deliver an even better service to our customers,” said BT Chief Architect Neil McRae in a statement. “Our high performance, high efficiency radio access equipment, provided by the major global vendors, has enabled us to roll out 4G and now 5G at scale, with the confidence that our customers will get the best network experience possible.”

BT has launched 5G across hundreds of towns and cities via its EE mobile network. By 2023, BT’s 5G network will cover more than half the U.K. population – four years ahead of current government ambitions. BT expects to deliver 5G connectivity solutions across most of the U.K. by 2028.

BT announced a 5G RAN deal with Nokia in 2020. The deal came as BT was required to rip and replace Huawei equipment from its networks.

Open RAN widens 

Last week, Vodafone turned on the first live 5G open RAN site in the U.K. – in Bath – using Samsung vRAN. Vodafone plans to deploy 2,500 open RAN sites across 4G and 5G technologies by 2027.

RELATED: Vodafone turns on first U.K. 5G open RAN site

The U.K. government has put some backing behind open RAN, including a commitment in December to invest £250 million ($331 million) to support the technology. It’s part of the government target for 35% of U.K. mobile traffic to be carried over open RAN architectures by 2030.

However, the U.K. stopped short of mandating open RAN technology, acknowledging operators are already busy working to implement decisions around replacing telecom equipment from vendors deemed high-risk, such as China’s Huawei and ZTE.