Vodafone Group and Qualcomm detailed plans to jointly develop reference designs for open RAN, promising a move which would boost the overall market for potential vendors.

The companies will focus on 5G, stating they plan to produce a reference design combining Vodafone’s network expertise with Qualcomm’s Application-Specific Integrated Circuit (ASIC) solutions.

“Virtualised and open RAN offer a significant opportunity to make 5G networks more flexible and cost-efficient, transforming them into a platform for innovation”, said Dino Flore, VP of technology at Qualcomm Europe.

Santiago Tenorio, head of network architecture at Vodafone, added the collaboration would boost the chances for smaller vendors “to compete on the world stage”, bringing “greater supplier diversity” to the RAN equipment sector.

However, the companies emphasised their open RAN blueprints would also aid established equipment providers.

Vodafone was one of the first major European operators to commit to open RAN, with its UK unit aiming to upgrade 2,600 sites by 2027, along with a rollout in the Republic of Ireland.

Tenorio noted the Qualcomm partnership comes hot on the heels of plans for an OpenRAN Test and Validation Lab at its Newbury campus in the UK.

The partnership with Qualcomm underlines the shifting role vendors could assume as open RAN gains traction: in the past, the chipmaker’s technology development partnerships typically also involved an equipment vendor rather than a sole deal with an operator.

In the US, Dish Network has pledged to create a greenfield 5G network based entirely on open RAN: it conducted tests of Qualcomm chips during 2020.