Vodafone to use open RAN in 30% of European networks by 2030

Vodafone intends to roll out new 4G and 5G masts for about 30,000 sites across Europe.

The masts will use open RAN technology, which allows for interoperability of open hardware, software interfaces and cellular wireless networks.

Any equipment that needs to be replaced from existing 5G masts will be reused elsewhere to reduce unnecessary waste, said  Johan Wibergh, Vodafone Group Chief Technology Officer, in a blog posting. Rural areas will be the first to benefit from the more flexible radio technology. By 2030, Vodafone expects to use open RAN technology in 30% of its masts across Europe.

“Local scale is needed to close the investment gap and ensure we can deploy 5G at pace. Regional scale is needed to close the digitalization gap,” said Vodafone Group CEO Nick Read in a keynote address at MWC. Europe’s current 5G coverage is low – at about 10% of the population – compared to that of China and the U.S, about 60% and 45% respectively.

Vodafone was the first to introduce a live open RAN site in Wales, touting readily available, low-cost hardware with cloud-based capabilities. Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone U.K., said that open RAN “has the ability to make us less dependent on current larger technology suppliers, and find ways to reduce the cost of rolling out mobile coverage.”
Many wireless cellular companies are interested in open RAN as it can help meet rigorous 5G application requirements. Open RAN could help operators avoid “vendor-lock in,” spurring network innovation and possibly reducing the overall cost of network management.

RELATED: Vodafone taps Samsung for U.K. open RAN network

Open RAN is a “great example of sector collaboration,” Read continued. He emphasized the work Vodafone has done by partnering with the Spanish government, such as opening a pan-European R&D center in Malaga and creating a European V-Hub service to help small and medium-sized enterprises digitalize their businesses.

Read also announced the launch of the Digital Asset Broker platform, part of Vodafone’s growing IoT platform, currently servicing over 140 million devices across 180 countries. The new platform, for instance, would enable cars to automatically pay for their own fueling. With 62% of Europe’s leading automotive brands relying on Vodafone IoT, the carrier has evolved to support the “Economy of Things,” he said.

But even with the cross-sector support Vodafone has received thus far, Europe has a long way to go to address market fragmentation and coverage gaps. “It will come down to the operators, government, and the European Commission to find the right solution,” concluded Read.