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Virgin Media O2 flirts with Samsung as a RAN vendor

Newly-merged UK operator group VMO2 is going to conduct trials with Samsung to test the compatibility of its 4G and 5G kit with legacy networks.

Samsung is a relatively recent arrival to the mobile network kit game and thus faces concerns about its ability to play nice with 2G and 3G legacy networks. The only way to allay these is to lob its kit into a mature network to see what happens and it seems VMO2 has volunteered to be just such a guinea pig.

So Samsung baseband units, 5G massive MIMO radios and 4G radios will all be plugged into the O2 network, presumably with a view to flogging a bunch of them provided everything goes according to plan. It should be noted that the press release was issued by Samsung, which presumably considers this trial to be a key proof-point of its competitiveness in the mobile kit space.

“With this trial, we are excited to join hands with Virgin Media O2 to demonstrate the readiness of our 5G network solutions for deployment in the U.K. and our capabilities in bringing immersive and reliable 4G and 5G mobile experiences to users,” said Woojune Kim, Head of Global Sales & Marketing, Networks Business at Samsung Electronics.

“Vendor diversity is crucial to developing safe, secure, and more efficient networks,” said Jeanie York, CTO at Virgin Media O2. “We look forward to undertaking these initial trials with Samsung, which is another milestone in our continued journey to provide the best possible 5G experience for our customers, as well as boosting our 4G network, as we look to upgrade the U.K.”

“We’re investing £250 million to put the UK at the forefront of 5G innovation so more people and businesses can benefit from improved and secure connectivity,” said Julia Lopez, the newly appointed UK Minister for Media, Data, and Digital Infrastructure. “It is fantastic to see industry supporting this push with Virgin Media O2 and Samsung working together to increase competition, resilience and choice in the 5G supply market.”

The elephant in the room here is OpenRAN. It’s alluded to with talk of vendor diversity and increased competition and there would be no need for the UK government to poke its nose into a private business arrangement without that angle. Presumably VMO2 is getting a tax-payer incentive on top of whatever favourable terms Samsung is offering to persuade it to take the plunge, so a number of precedents could be set by this trial.

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