LIVE FROM TELECOM INFRA PROJECT SUMMIT 2018, LONDON: Telefonica and Vodafone hailed OpenRAN technology as the future of Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, as both operators announced plans to expand trial deployments.

OpenRAN is an initiative that sits within the Telecom Infra Project’s (TIP) work to improve RAN efficiency. It is designed to promote RAN technologies built to be software-centric on commoditised hardware. The aim is for RAN systems to be interoperable, as opposed to the traditional incumbent vendor model.

“We’ve spent the last few years thinking how we can ignite the industry and bring in new vendors,” said Vodafone Group’s head of network strategy and architecture, Yago Tenorio (pictured, background). “We eventually decided OpenRAN is the future.”

Following two initial pilots last year in India which convinced Vodafone the new technology could match incumbent performance, the operator will now scale deployments with three new trials: in Turkey during Q4 with vendor Parallel Wireless, and in two projects in Africa scheduled for the first quarter of next year (with the two new winners of an RFI opened last June – Mavenir and Altiostar).

“These pilots are aimed at testing the operational and commercial models,” noted Tenorio. “They will be larger scale trials.”

Meanwhile David del Val Latorre (pictured, standing), CEO – R&D, Telefonica, revealed three pilots set to take place next year in Latin America: during the first quarter of 2019 in Peru and Colombia, and in Q2-Q3 in an as-yet unnamed market in the continent. Altiostar, Mavenir and Parallel Wireless will again feature.

“In the same style as Vodafone we are going to scale these deployments – we want to ensure the end to end deployment works really well,” said del Val Latorre. “We decided to do this RFI with Vodafone because we think things really need to change.”

Tenorio added that the RFI was needed to drive innovation in the RAN market, and both operators were encouraged by the more than twenty company submissions received. As part of the evaluation, companies only focused on deploying 4G equipment were ruled out as older 2G and 3G equipment needed to be supported.

As it looks to ramp up its OpenRAN work in the next year, del Val Latorre said he is convinced “we will solve all the operational issues that come with this deployment.”

Internet para Todos
Telefonica also highlighted some of the benefits associated with this new OpenRAN approach, using the example of its Internet para Todos initiative which targets the 100 million unconnected population in Latin America.

“We focused on the RAN – generating a radically lower cost structure,” said del Val Latorre. “We wanted a new cost structure for the radio but to provide the same performance we have in cities. And our solution had to be open.”

The Telefonica executive said the approach saw the cost of investment per inhabitant covered fall x5-10, while it needed x3 less investment per Mb/s delivered.

Meanwhile both operators also today released the results of an RFI for so-called ‘CrowdCell’ technology to boost indoor 4G coverage. Telefonica and Vodafone selected Lime Microsystems and Alpha Networks to provide an end-to-end CrowdCell platform.