Vodafone switches on first UK 5G O-RAN site
Written by: Richard Hook | Published:
Bath Bridge and River Avon Bath in Somerset will be home to Europe's first 5G O-RAN site at scale (Pedro Szekely/Wikimedia Commons)

Mobile operator Vodafone has switched on what it claims is the first 5G Open Radio Access Network (O-RAN) site at scale in Europe.

As part of the company’s plan to rollout O-RAN across 2.500 sites in rural parts of Wales and south west England by 2027, Vodafone has deployed the first live use of the 5G technology at scale across Bath.

Vodafone claims its partnership approach, working alongside companies including NEC, Dell and Samsung, will help stimulate the O-RAN ecosystem across Europe, reducing barriers to entry in the RAN market. The O-RAN approach, which is backed by the UK government, seeks to standardise the design and functionality of network kits allowing RAN technology including antennae and masts from multiple suppliers to be used in 5G networks.

As part of the First Site Installation (FSI) in Bath, Vodafone has deployed Samsung’s virtualised Radio Access Network (vRAN), Dell’s off-the-shelf PowerEdge servers, Intel Xeon processors and Wind Rivers distributed cloud-native platform to host the O-RAN applications.

To mark the switch on, the operator made a first 5G video call over O-RAN infrastructure connecting Vodafone’s chief network officer Andrea Dona and Minister for Digital Infrastructure Julia Lopez.

Commenting on the call, Lopez said: “This phone call marks a big step forward for innovation in UK telecoms. O-RAN will have an important role to play in the future of our mobile networks and I congratulate Vodafone for being the first to make it happen.

“The government is investing in the technology through our £250m diversification strategy so we can deliver the amazing benefits of 5G for people and businesses with more diverse, resilient and secure equipment in our networks.”

"This is a watershed moment in the telecoms industry and a catalyst for change and evolution”, Andrea Dona (Vodafone CNO)

Flex-5G backed by Vodafone was one of 14 projects to receive funding from the government’s Future RAN Competition (FRANC) which aims to “reduce over-reliance on a small number of telecoms vendors”.

Vodafone said that O-RAN 4G and 5G antennas from both Samsung and NEC will continue to be deployed from mid-2022. In August 2020 Vodafone switched on its first live 4G OpenRAN site at the Royal Welsh Showground in Powys, Wales.

Dona added: “This is the beginning of a new chapter for the mobile industry. Our team has been working tirelessly to take OpenRAN technology from a theory in our lab to our customers in the real-world – it’s remarkable how much has been achieved in such a short period of time. OpenRAN as a concept is only five years old, and we’re already fundamentally changing how we deploy connectivity infrastructure. This is a watershed moment in the telecoms industry, and a catalyst for change and evolution.”

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