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Orange and Vodafone to share Open RAN networks

Orange and Vodafone agreed to build an Open Radio Access Network (RAN) with RAN sharing in rural parts of Europe where they both have mobile networks. This is the first time that two companies have agreed to share Open RAN networks in Europe.

The first commercial sites to be deployed under this agreement are planned to start this year in a rural area of Romania, near Bucharest. They will provide an initial real-life experience of this new operational model based on the integration of multi-vendor hardware and software, paving the way for wider scale deployments. Orange and Vodafone are currently working to individually select strategic vendors for this initial build phase.

Today’s announcement reinforces the companies’ respective commitment to rollout Open RAN as the technology of choice for future mobile networks across Europe, leading to a more resilient and reinvigorated vendor supply chain. The companies’ commitment to Open RAN also supports the European Commission’s ambitious target to have 5G in all populated areas by 2030.

Open RAN unlocks significant advantages over traditional network sharing. By using open and virtualised RAN, relying on disaggregated software and hardware, Vodafone and Orange will each have greater flexibility when adding new radio sites or upgrading existing ones, while keeping the cost and energy consumption low. This model will serve as a blueprint to extend 4G and 5G networks to rural communities across Europe.

Michaël Trabbia, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Orange, said: “Orange is excited to co-operate with Vodafone on a first open RAN sharing deployment in Romania, which is a significant milestone on the road to wide-scale open RAN adoption across Europe. It is a major step towards agile and fully-automated networks, unleashing the potential of virtualization and AI to boost performance while driving both infrastructure and operational costs down.

“In particular, Open RAN is a great opportunity to take network sharing to a whole new dimension, with even higher operator differentiation thanks to the ability for each of the partners to tune its network more independently according to its promises towards its own customers.”

Alberto Ripepi, Chief Network Officer of Vodafone, said: “We are delighted to be working with Orange on this industry-first initiative. By combining resources, we will reduce the cost of hardware, minimise fuel consumption and the need for duplicate sites whilst eradicating coverage not-spots.

“Open RAN also means we can more quickly add new software features without necessarily replacing the hardware components, which is often the case today. This minimises any disruption to service and ensures customers in rural areas receive the same upgrades as those in the cities.”

Under existing sharing agreements one operator is typically responsible for all the component parts of a shared site, with both operators using the same RAN vendor or software release, and life cycle management.

Open RAN sharing paves the way for Orange and Vodafone to reap the benefits of a truly open infrastructure, allowing the sharing of all hardware components (radio units and Cloud infrastructure) while independently managing their own RAN software on a common cloud infrastructure. As a result, each company can tailor services and capacity to their specific customer needs, while ensuring a strong and secure isolation between each operator’s data. This is in line with the priorities that have been developed under the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) both operators signed in early 2021 with other major European operators.

Testing of the Open RAN solution on a live network will continue throughout 2023, allowing a like-for-like comparison with legacy networks and will aim at confirming the feature and performance parity between Open RAN and traditional RAN solutions, before expanding the Open RAN sharing blueprint to other markets.

CT Bureau

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