UK operator Vodafone has deployed Open RAN tech on some live masts in urban environments, claiming a European first in so doing.

While there’s nothing about Open RAN technology that necessarily makes it better for rural deployments, that environment has been the focus for its initial live deployments. One major reason for this, presumably, is that lower population density means less capacity requirement, which in turn means less burden on the technology. So this can be viewed as another incremental step in the process of Open RAN proving itself to be as viable as the existing RAN technological paradigm.

Accordingly, this first urban live deployment is in the relatively sleepy towns of Exmouth and Torquay in the south west of England, the latter being the setting for the classic comedy Fawlty Towers.  While Vodafone is treating this development as a proof point for urban Open RAN, the ultimate test will be when they start using it in central London.

“Vodafone was one of the first companies worldwide to commit to Open RAN at scale,” said Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer at Vodafone UK. “The potential of Open RAN is huge and clear to see.  But to realise this potential, we need to deploy the technology out in the live network and take it from rural to urban locations.  This is what we have now done – taking lab innovations into the real world and an essential step forward for the health and resilience of our industry.”

Any time the UK manages an international technological first, you can be sure a politician won’t be too far behind to get a piece of the action. “Vodafone’s use of Open RAN in Devon is the first of its kind in Europe, proving once again that the UK is a leader in innovative solutions for mobile connectivity,” said Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez. “We encourage other providers to roll out Open RAN in urban areas and continue to support a more diverse, innovative and resilient telecoms supply chain through our £250m investment programme.”

Other contributors to this project include Dell, Intel, Samsung, Wind River, and Capgemini, and Vodafone has also signed Open RAN development deals with NTT Docomo and Nokia. One of the main points of the technology is to open up the RAN to a broader range of technology providers, so that’s good to see. But the fact that this project is limited to 16 masts in relatively small towns shows we still have a way to go before Open RAN is proven to be at least as good as ‘closed RAN’.

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