How Open RAN milestones are being met is as notable as what milestones are being met. 

Last year Telefonica O2 selected NEC as its prime integrator for its global Open RAN program, spanning initiatives in Spain, Germany, Brazil and the UK.

Last week (August 30th) saw the announcement of VMO2’s first live Open RAN site in the UK, “in the Northamptonshire region”. Initially, this provides 4G coverage, with 5G to follow “imminently”, according to our sources. This initial site is a full macro site, capable of supporting rural in-fill or dense urban environments. (In the English Midlands, Northamptonshire has a population of around 750,000 people, with county town Northampton home to just over 200,000.)

VMO2 is benchmarking the site’s performance against conventional site KPIs – call drop ratios, throughput – and our understanding is that the site meets or exceeds the required KPIs. Conclusion: Open RAN sites work just as well as conventional ones.

Delivering parity against conventional RAN is a pre-requisite for the open RAN movement. But it is not the only measure for judging the success of open RAN. Every open RAN site that goes live is a demonstration of successful collaboration between multiple vendors. And that is important. The goal of open RAN was not simply to enable a substitution of vendor A with vendor B. It aims to enable a market in which many suppliers can participate, and where size and incumbency do not confer a near-monopoly, or create an unsurmountable barrier to new entrants or innovation.

For Open RAN to be successful, evidence of effective collaboration is just as important as network performance metrics.

The VMO2 milestone provides just such evidence. NEC as lead SI, Rakuten Symphony (centered on the former Altiostar’s open vRAN), and a number of other vendors – radio units, cloud platform, x86 platform – have been able to deliver a fully-functioning site using open RAN specifications within around 6 months.

The latest evidence that a newly formed ecosystem of vendors can collaborate quickly and effectively should give heart to the Open RAN pioneers and give even the more sceptical pause for thought. More choice is what open RAN fundamentally aims to provide – and that can only work if the choices made can actually collaborate effectively.

For VMO2, there remain many further questions and phases to go through: additional sites, integration into wider operational support systems and processes, further operational proving. Though a modest achievement at one level (Rakuten Mobile has 44,000 macro open RAN sites), VMO2’s first live open RAN site in the UK is nonetheless significant, as much for how it was achieved, as for what has been achieved. We look forward to further progress reports.

Picture credit: Photo by SHEILA HAMMOND on Unsplash 

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