Vodafone UK begins large-scale open RAN deployment

After numerous trials and tests of open Radio Access Network (RAN) technology, Vodafone is ready to begin installing the technology at scale starting in southwest England.  

This marks the first phase of Vodafone’s commitment to use open RAN in at least 2,500 sites by the end of 2027. In 2020, the U.K. government gave Vodafone and other U.K. mobile operators until 2027 to remove Huawei equipment from their networks. Vodafone doesn’t have Huawei equipment in its core network but used it mostly in masts and antennas.

Open RAN gives Vodafone more flexibility in how it builds its networks and enables the company to use new suppliers.

“The rapid innovation we have seen in the Open RAN ecosystem is truly remarkable,” said Vodafone UK Chief Network Officer Andrea Dona in a statement. “The industry only started working on this concept in 2016 in earnest, so to see KPIs align to traditional technology is a testament to the work which has been done.”

It’s meant a lot for Samsung Electronics, enabling the South Korean vendor to bring its virtualized RAN and open RAN expertise to a premier European carrier.  Samsung is supporting Vodafone’s large-scale deployment of open RAN across 2,500 mobile sites in Wales and southwest England.

Vodafone named suppliers for its wide-scale open RAN project in 2021, including Samsung, Wind River, Dell, Intel, Keysight Technologies and Capgemini Engineering.

Initially, Vodafone will start installing open RAN technology at scale starting in Devon. For this installation, Samsung said it’s providing its vRAN software supporting Multi-RAT across 4G and 5G and its O-RAN compliant radios in the low and mid bands, including Massive MIMO radios.

This deployment is the latest milestone in the collaboration between Vodafone, Samsung and other partners since the U.K.’s first 5G open RAN site in Bath in January 2022. Samsung also supported Vodafone’s installation of open RAN in the Exmouth and Torquay network in December 2022.

“Vodafone has been at the forefront of open RAN innovation and we are excited to kick off the mass installation of open RAN, working together with Samsung Networks and the rest of our ecosystem,” Dona stated. “After rounds of testing and validation, we are well prepared to embark on this new phase in our open RAN expansion and look forward to opening up a new world of possibilities that will transform customer experiences.”

Joe Madden, founder and chief analyst at Mobile Experts, commented that the release of vRAN 3.0 comes at a good time as Samsung is extending its vRAN solutions to “this major ‘brownfield’ opportunity.” It’s an important milestone because it represents open RAN replacing legacy solutions at scale in a high-capacity environment, setting up Vodafone UK with the flexibility to monetize their RAN better in the future, according to Madden.