Vodafone Chooses Partners To Build First European RAN Network

Mobile and broadband operator Vodafone has chosen six partners to build Europe's first commercial Radio Access Network (RAN).

Vodafone has selected Dell Technologies, NEC, Samsung, Wind River, Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies to help it build one of the largest Open RAN networks in the world.

Vodafone said the partnerships would build on its new Open RAN lab in Newbury, England and its planned digital skills hubs in Spain and Germany.

Mobile operators and governments want to encourage the development of Open RAN technology to help more vendors enter a market dominated by Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia.

The Vodafone contract provides a huge boost to Samsung and NEC, Asian equipment suppliers that have struggled to compete with Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia in the 4G era, as telecoms companies look to smaller suppliers to build 5G networks.

The decision by the British government last year to ban the use of new Huawei equipment for 5G networks from 2021 and to phase out existing technology by 2027 has led operators such as Vodafone to accelerate plans to use alternative suppliers of radio equipment.

The British government and European Commission have pushed the concept of “open RAN” as a way to boost their technology industries by opening up huge amounts of telecoms spending to smaller local hardware and software providers. This has caused tension within the industry given that Ericsson and Nokia, two of Europe’s largest technology companies, already offer alternatives to Huawei technology and equipment.

Vodafone’s initial contracts, awarded after months of testing different open RAN vendors, have gone to Asian and American suppliers. The company said it could look to use Europe-based vendors in the future.

The initial work will be in the U.K., where 2,500 masts in the south-west of the country and covering most of Wales will be upgraded to use open RAN equipment. Vodafone said it will extend the open RAN push to Europe and Africa over time.