Vodafone is committed to exploring open network cellular systems as we seek to extend connectivity to more people in our markets.
Our latest project, the first of its kind, has identified vendors committed to creating lower cost Radio Access Network (RAN) platforms by disaggregating hardware and software components, implementing General Purpose Processing (GPP) ‘open’ interfaces.
RAN platforms can increasingly be seen as a commodity for telecoms operators, just as the hardware should be. Differentiation will come from the software and services that operators run over the RAN.
Through the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) OpenRAN Project Group we launched the industry's first Request for Information (RFI) on 26 June 2018. The RFI has enabled us to better understand the ecosystem which exists to support our vision of an open RAN platform and the readiness of vendors to support commercial deployments.
Launched in February 2016, TIP was started with the goal of accelerating the pace of innovation in the telecom industry. Vodafone’s Group Head of Networks Strategy and Architecture, Santiago Tenorio sits on the TIP Board.
The RFI had a comprehensive scope, covering the following technology areas and ran to over 650 requirements:
- OpenRAN Platform
- Radio Hardware
- 2G Functionality
- 3G Functionality
- 4G Functionality
- Base station controller /radio network controller functionality
The breadth of RFI requirements enabled us to identify a number of new vendors who could add significant strength to the ecosystem and help it to deploy OpenRAN platforms in future.
What we learned from the industry’s first OpenRAN RFI is being shared at the TIP Summit in London today, with the following vendors receiving recognition:
- Most compliant e2e platforms: Mavenir; Parallel Wireless; Altiostar.
- 2G software: Fairwaves, Parallel Wireless.
- 3G software: Mavenir; Parallel Wireless.
- 4G software: Altiostar, Parallel Wireless, Radisys.
- Remore radio head/ Radio hardware: Bai cells; NEC; Parallel Wireless.
- Innovators: ASOCS; Phluido.
- Challengers: Comba; Dali; Fairwaves; Vanu.
In terms of operational readiness, we see a clear timeline which could support commercial networks from the second half of 2019. 4G was well supported, but 2G and 3G - which remain key in many emerging markets - less so, and therefore that is an area where we will work with vendors to extend compliance. 5G, although not part of this RFI, was often referenced by vendors with indicative first commercial implementations from 2020.
In addition to the OpenRAN platform and associated software, radio hardware such as remote radio heads (RRH) was also adequately supported with the necessary frequency bands, power requirements and carrier configurations for our markets. It is particularly encouraging to see suppliers starting to introduce multi-technology support in their RRH products with the cost benefits this brings through reduced hardware deployment.
Vodafone will continue to work across the ecosystem with the ambition to secure commercially viable platforms. To support this, we are planning large scale multi-technology macro pilots to better understand the deployment, operation and management requirements of these new open platforms which will include a number of the top performing vendors from the RFI.
Andy Dunkin is a Senior Manager with the Radio Product team in Vodafone Group’s networks division. He has been involved in Radio Access Networks with Vodafone since 1996. He has also been a board member of both the Small Cell Forum and Global TDD Initiative and is currently co-chair for the OpenRAN and vRAN Fronthaul Project Groups in the Telecom Infra Project.