Vodafone UK claimed a first as it lit a live open RAN 4G site, a move it said will enable the introduction of more suppliers for mobile networks and faster rollout of remote rural coverage.

The operator group is one of the biggest operator backers of open RAN: the UK unit said with the site now live, it will work to identify communities across the country where it can economically introduce voice and high-speed data using the new technology.

Vodafone housed the open RAN site at the Royal Welsh Showground events venue.

Indeed, the establishment of a live site is a significant development for the operator, following open RAN trials in the UK, Republic of Ireland (RoI), Turkey, Mozambique and Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The company raised eyebrows in November 2019, when it launched a network tender across its entire European footprint, opening the door to open RAN technology.

Opening the market
In its trial site statement Vodafone was keen to emphasise open RAN unlocks the door to more suppliers of network technology, instead “of being reliant on heavily customised hardware available from only a few vendors”.

It also pointed to the benefits of virtualised cloud infrastructure, arguing the approach reduces costs and increases flexibility.

Vodafone said it was being supported by open RAN player Mavenir for the deployment: the company is one of a few alternative network supplier companies which have emerged, alongside other start-ups such as Parallel Wireless (Parallel is powering Vodafone’s RoI trial). 

Traditional vendors, including Nokia and Ericsson, have also backed open RAN technology. Huawei is not a supporter of open RAN, and UK operators have also been told to remove all Huawei kit from their networks by 2027.

Scott Petty, CTO of Vodafone UK said the establishment of its first open RAN site was “an important milestone”.

“This new approach 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.”