German operator 1&1 AG today announced it is now operating Europe’s first fully virtualized 5G network based on open Radio Access Network (RAN) technology.

1&1 has been offering fixed wireless access (FWA) service since December 2022, but it’s now offering mobile services with compatible smartphones. Where the 1&1 network doesn’t provide coverage, phones will automatically roam onto the Telefónica network. Beginning in the summer of 2024, roaming also will be done with Vodafone.

A 1&1 spokesperson confirmed that its 5G network is available today for customers nationwide and said switching between the 1&1 network and the Telefónica or Vodafone networks will be uninterrupted. 1&1 uses only gigabit antennas and always connects them via optical fiber, the spokesperson said. 

Rakuten Symphony is responsible for the end-to-end integration of the network. The cloud-native core is provided by Mavenir.

At the heart of the 1&1 network is a private cloud that is operated in hundreds of cities through decentralized edge data centers, according to 1&1’s press release. Network functions are controlled by software running on conventional servers. 

Open RAN is a new way of designing networks, in part to break away from the reliance on a single vendor and open it up to more vendors and increased competition. 

In the U.S., AT&T made news earlier this week when it announced it will use Ericsson as its open RAN partner, with plans calling for 70% of AT&T’s wireless network traffic moving across open-capable platforms by late 2025.

Dish Network was the first U.S. operator to fully embrace open RAN, as it’s positioning itself to become the country’s fourth facilities-based wireless operator.

In Germany, 1&1’s ambition is to become the fourth mobile network operator, competing against incumbents Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone Germany and Telefónica Deutschland (O2 Germany).

More than 80 companies in total are providing products and services in 1&1’s O-RAN, and the company makes a point of saying it’s not dependent on dominant equipment suppliers from China, like Huawei.  

“All network functions are located in our private cloud and are controlled by software. This comes mainly from Rakuten and Mavenir. As system integrator, Rakuten also ensures that all network components interact smoothly. In this way, 1&1 benefits from the extensive experience that Rakuten has gained in recent years in operating the world’s first Open RAN in Japan. The full functionality of the 1&1 O-RAN is a major milestone in our company’s history,” said 1&1 AG CEO Ralph Dommermuth in a statement.

In 2021,1&1 announced intentions, with Rakuten, to build Europe’s first fully virtualized mobile network based on open RAN. However, it was plagued by delays, missing antenna deployment targets and more. 

Last month, 1&1 said it would finally start selling 5G mobile services starting on December 8.  

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