Vodafone has successfully completed the industry’s first trial of multi-vendor RAN intelligent controller implementation (RIC) – a technology that could accelerate the development of the OpenRAN ecosystem and result in better quality 5G networks for consumers and businesses.
OpenRAN is a vendor-neutral approach with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software. Operators benefit from increased innovation from a wider range of suppliers, reduced costs and greater flexibility because the threat of vendor lock-in is reduced.
Vodafone has been a vocal supporter of the technology, promising to deploy OpenRAN in at least 2,600 sites in the UK by 2027. However, in order to do this, it needs to be able to draw open an OpenRAN ecosystem with tested and commercialised equipment.
These efforts have seen Vodafone team up with firms across the mobile industry and open a test lab at its Newbury HQ.
This latest pilot, Vodafone teamed up with Cohere Technologies, Capgemini Engineering, Intel, and the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) to double the capacity of a 5G cell using a programmable, AI-based RIC that could support kit from multiple vendors.
Significantly, this was first demonstration of 5G Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) using RIC at a multi-vendor RAN site.
MU-MIMO is a network technology that boosts the capacity of a 5G cell by equally distributing bandwidth to each device connected and is seen as one of the main ways operators will increase the capacity of their sites to support the most demanding 5G applications.
The success of the trial is therefore being hailed as a major milestone for the development of the OpenRAN ecosystem. Because the RIC architecutre has been standardised by the O-RAN Alliance, all vendors and operators have access to a common framework that paves the way for commercialisation.
Indeed, the partners involved in this trial believe capacity could even be increased by up to five times when used with mid-range spectrum like 3.4GHz as opposed to twofold increases achieved with 700MHz.
Analysts believe the market for Open RAN technologies will reach $5 billion within five years, and it’s not just new players getting involved. Nokia and Ericsson have both joined the O-RAN Alliance and become part of its 170-strong membership of operators, vendors and research institutions. In 2020, the O-RAN Alliance agreed a partnership with mobile industry body, the GSMA.