The first major Open RAN innovation projects originating from Vodafone’s Málaga Silicon R&D centre are being premiered at Mobile World Congress – the industry’s largest exhibition – starting next week.
Since the R&D centre opened last Spring, Vodafone’s engineers have been working with industry leaders such as Intel, Accelercomm, ADI, MaxLinear, Lime Micro Systems, and the University of Málaga, to propel the development of new silicon chip architecture needed to power tomorrow’s higher capacity, open networks.
By collaborating with vendors on microchip architecture and design, Vodafone can drive greater interoperability within the Open RAN ecosystem, where this jointly developed silicon can find its way into prototype, and potential future, products and platforms. This is essential to deliver improved performance and efficiencies as network capacity demands increase, driven by Virtual Reality (VR) and the metaverse applications.
New Radio Unit from Intel
The first of several industry-leading Open RAN demonstrations on Vodafone’s MWC stand, inspired by experts from both Intel and Vodafone, is a new prototype ‘white box’ radio unit (antennas on a mobile mast) which encapsulates the true spirit of Open RAN. The radio unit houses two key elements – Massive MIMO (the technology developed to meet greater customer demand for high bandwidth services like VR) and an ORAN Alliance compliant reference design with silicon from Analog Devices that can be adopted by other developers and vendors alike.
Santiago ‘Yago’ Tenorio, Vodafone Director of Network Architecture, explained: “The innovation taking shape in Málaga is exciting and pushing the boundaries of silicon advancement in Europe. Output from our work with Intel is expected to enhance future Open RAN specifications the world over.”
Intel added that the white box radio unit will be free from proprietary limitations. Designed on industry O-RAN ALLIANCE standards, and openly available intellectual property (IP), the radio unit is expected to be suitable for many types of network installations, from low powered small cells typically used in offices and city centres to macro sites serving thousands of mobile users. Both companies agree that by using common silicon and architecture, operators will be able to simplify systems integration and drive down costs.
Collective strength of Dell, EdgeQ, Radisys, HPE, Qualcomm and Mavenir
Another focal point on Vodafone’s stand is hardware acceleration for the compute platform, which explores architecture and silicon options to give new Open RAN networks a boost. Drawing on the strengths of Dell Technologies, EdgeQ, Radisys, HPE, Qualcomm, and Mavenir, Vodafone will show how this developing technology is evolving to meet the demands of high capacity, high performance networks utilising the latest technology and functionality such as massive MIMO to ensure customers have the very best services and experience.
Open RAN also supports Vodafone’s journey to net zero by 2040. Alongside the adoption of solar energy in the company’s offices and to power some of our Network base stations, Vodafone is also working on a plan for Open RAN to exceed the energy efficiency of today’s mobile networks. To achieve this, it is collaborating with many industry players on a standardised approach to evaluating, testing, measuring, and monitoring energy consumption of dis-aggregated multi-vendor Open RAN.
Working with partners Intel, Dell Technologies, and Keysight and the O-RAN ALLIANCE, Vodafone will show the development of new energy efficiency techniques for the compute platform that will later evolve to include artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to enable advanced energy optimisation of the end-to-end Open RAN platform. The output from this project is already driving future Open RAN specifications.
Preparing Future Engineers
As with any new technology, investment to ensure its future success remains a priority. Therefore, Vodafone is also working with two universities in Málaga. It has recently signed an agreement with Loyola University at which Vodafone is running a ‘mini-MBA’ for software engineering graduates joining the company and is preparing to open a campus office at Malaga University in early Summer.
Vodafone Stand at MWC
Building on Vodafone’s existing urban deployment in the UK (a European first), the demonstrations will show how Vodafone is further preparing Open RAN for wider deployment in highly populated towns and cities, strengthening cooperation with national authorities on security, and enhancing the energy efficiency of all components. Visitors can see the Open RAN demonstrations in action on Vodafone’s stand (Hall 3, stand 3E11) Mobile World Congress (MWC), 27 February - 2 March 2023.
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