UK operator Vodafone has swapped out the existing Massive MIMO kit in a live Open RAN site and replaced it with shiny, new NEC gear.

The big deal about this news, at least from a Vodafone perspective, is that is demonstrates one of the key features of Open RAN, on which it has long been keen. The whole point of having open, as opposed to proprietary, interconnections between the components and software within the radio access network is to enable the use of different vendors for each bit.

Vodafone started rolling out live Open RAN sites in Devon back in late 2022, then felt confident enough to expand that deployment to 2,500 sites 8 months later. In the latter case, Samsung was revealed as the radio and software vendor, so we assume it was Samsung Massive MIMO kit that was replaced by NEC in this case, which was also in Devon (Vodafone didn’t specify in its press release). Perhaps most importantly for Open RAN proof-point purposes, the Samsung software was retained.

“Massive MIMO is the cherry on top of any 5G installation,” said Vodafone UK Chief Network Officer, Andrea Dona. “It dramatically improves the efficiency of the site, and as a result, provides an enhanced mobile experience for our customers. This is an exciting development because it proves the benefits of OpenRAN. Here, we have replaced a component of a live mobile site with one from a different vendor, without operational complications, and it is running on software from Samsung. This is interchangeability and interoperability in action.”

Vodafone also felt moved to comment on another, related announcement by NEC, which focused on the use of Arm-based chips (as opposed to x86 – Intel and AMD) in an Open vRAN and 5G Core UPF demonstration. The other participants were Qualcomm, Red Hat and HPE, but the most eye-catching aspect of the demo was the introduction of Arm-based chips into the open/virtual/cloud RAN setup.

”Vodafone is keen to see the diversification of the eco-system for silicon architecture with the demonstration of an Arm-based Open RAN platform, widening the choice of power efficient compute solutions,” said Andy Dunkin, Open RAN RF & Digital Platform Development Manager at Vodafone. “The maturity of Arm-based architecture, combined with high-quality NEC vRAN and acceleration from Qualcomm, shows the continuing progress made on the interoperability of Open RAN software and hardware.”

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