Vodafone launches first urban Open RAN sites in Southwest UK


The deployment follows a small-scale rural rollout in Wales and the Southwest of England last year

Vodafone has long been a major proponent of Open RAN and now it is claiming a new European first: an urban deployment of Open RAN equipment in a live network.

Until now, Vodafone’s Open RAN deployments have primarily been centred around rural areas – presumably since these regions are less risky, impacting less customers if things go wrong and putting less stress on network capacity.

The operator’s first deployment of Open RAN in a live network took place on a very small scale in Wales and the Southwest of England in 2021, but since then Vodafone has increased its Open RAN ambitions, targeting Open RAN technology deployments at least 2,500 sites by 2027.

It is likely no coincidence that this timeline coincides with the deadline imposed on UK operators by the government to fully remove Huawei equipment from their networks, with Open RAN having long been touted as a possible alternative.

In total, Vodafone hopes to have 30% of its mobile sites in Europe using Open RAN equipment by 2030.

This week, the operator has taken yet another significant step towards this goal – albeit at a similarly small scale.

Vodafone says it plans to deploy Open RAN technology to 16 masts in Exmouth and Torquay over the next three months, a move that represents the first urban deployment of the open access technology in Europe.

“Vodafone was one of the first companies worldwide to commit to Open RAN at scale,” said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK. “The potential of Open RAN is huge and clear to see.  But to realise this potential, we need to deploy the technology out in the live network and take it from rural to urban locations.  This is what we have now done – taking lab innovations into the real world and an essential step forward for the health and resilience of our industry.”

Vodafone is working with Dell, Intel, Samsung, Wind River, and Capgemini as technology partners for the deployments.

The UK government has ambitious Open RAN targets of its own, announcing in December last year that they would like to see 35% of mobile network traffic carried over Open RAN architecture by 2030. As such, they were predictably pleased by this announcement from Vodafone.

“Vodafone’s use of Open RAN in Devon is the first of its kind in Europe, proving once again that the UK is a leader in innovative solutions for mobile connectivity,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez. “We encourage other providers to roll out Open RAN in urban areas and continue to support a more diverse, innovative and resilient telecoms supply chain through our £250m investment programme.”

Can Open RAN pose a threat to the dominance of the traditional RAN vendors? Join the operators in discussion at the upcoming Connected North conference

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