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Vodafone reportedly joins forces with Intel to develop its own OpenRAN chips

UK telco Vodafone has reportedly recruited Intel and other silicon manufacturers to help it design its own OpenRAN chip architecture at a new R&D centre in Spain.

The work will take place at its new lab in Malaga which opens Monday, according to an exclusive by Reuters. Apparently it will bring together 50 OpenRAN specialists, 650 software engineers, architects and technicians, and represents a 225 million euro investment over a five year period.

As well as Intel around 20 other vendors have joined the project, including Qualcomm, Broadcom, ARM, and Lime Microsystems. We are told Vodafone will use the new centre to design silicon for ARM and RISC-V instruction sets as well as Intel x86.

Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone’s director of network architecture, told Reuters that OpenRAN ‘would enable the mobile operator to quickly add new digital services and to optimise networks using artificial intelligence.’

“It will bring disruptive innovation back to the network,” he said in the only direct quote published in the piece.

Vodafone has shown itself to be one of the more active telecoms players when it comes to pushing OpenRAN as a concept and a practicality. Earlier this month it switched on a macro site in Bath, which used OpenRAN technology in all areas bar the antenna.

Taking on the chip architecture design itself (well, alongside partners) certainly adds more chops to its credentials as a key OpenRAN player, and the alliance with Intel makes sense since it has also got its sights set on being central to the hardware makeup of OpenRAN installations.

The idea of different equipment manufacturers, software firms and operators pooling their different skillsets together in order to collaboratively produce something previously done only by a few big kit vendors can seem like a messy way of advancing the technology. But that complicated collaboration is basically the entire ethos of OpenRAN – and indicative of it being propelled as much by political as technological concerns. Having said that, how OpenRAN unfolds as a technology and way of thinking about telecoms in the future will likely be defined by alliances such as this one.

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