Vodafone’s OpenRAN plan in Ireland: small but significant

Telecommunication tower on the field against the sky

Vodafone is rolling out Open RAN technology to a handful of mobile sites in Ireland in what is a small, but significant, step in the shift to vendor diversity in the telecoms space.

The telco said it will trial Open RAN in North Kildare, to the west of Dublin, before rolling out to 30 new 4G network locations in the North West of Ireland. The technology will enable it to spread coverage to those new sites faster and more cost-effectively.

It is working with US-based Parallel Wireless, an Open RAN software provider, on the project and made a point of highlighting the fact that Open RAN enables telcos to use alternative technology partners to roll out network. In a world in which many governments have designated China’s Huawei – and its domestic rivals – as persona non grata and latched firmly onto the concept of vendor diversity, this is more than just about cost-savings and avoiding vendor lock-in…although those aspects are important too.

For its part, Vodafone said it will “pioneer” the use of systems integrators to improve product automation “covering zero touch provisioning, testing and operational process definition for Open RAN, and in doing so, further developing the ecosystem to include RAN automation vendors.”

The Ireland Open RAN deployment is small, and it’s about adding 4G coverage to new sites, rather than ripping out kit from legacy vendors. But the announcement comes in the wake of a much bigger commitment to the technology from Vodafone.

Earlier this month the telco said it will move to Open RAN at 2,600 UK sites, predominantly in rural areas, as part of the process of replacing Huawei equipment, as mandated by the government. The sites are located in Wales and the South West of England, and represent more than a third of the Huawei sites the operator is required to replace by 2028. It will begin the switchover in 2022.

Vodafone this week reminded us that the UK plan is “the largest confirmed promise made by a European carrier to embrace technology companies from outside the established supply chain.” It really wants us to know it is flying the flag for Open RAN and that all-important vendor diversity…something that has actually been an issue for telcos for years, but is only now becoming a real possibility.

“Delivering Open RAN sites is a pivotal moment in the provision of mobile coverage to rural communities in Ireland, as this pioneering new approach reduces cost, increases flexibility and enables new suppliers to support the expansion of Vodafone’s mobile network in hard to reach areas,” said Didier Clavero, Chief Technology Officer of Vodafone Ireland, in a statement.

“Focusing on the North West region to begin with, we will continue to identify communities across Ireland where we can more economically introduce access to voice and high-speed data using the new technology,” he added.

“By shifting networks to virtualized OpenRAN, quality coverage can be delivered to many new subscribers at much lower cost with faster time-to-market,” said Parallel Wireless’ Chief Operating Officer, Keith Johnson.

We look forward to seeing some statistics on that.

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