Vodafone draws Huawei into mobile core R&D lab

In a move that must have sent alarm bells ringing within the HQs of its established infrastructure suppliers, Vodafone has announced the opening of a new lab in Italy dedicated to mobile core networks, in association with Huawei.

While this R&D effort was reported to be focusing on IMS, mobile broadband support and FMC, observers have taken Huawei's move as a firm indication for further involvement within the evolved packet core sector, and to push its credentials higher up the LTE value chain.

Unstrung reported the news as Huawei manoeuvring for a position deeper in Vodafone's mobile network and which could be seen as muscling in on the operator's current mobile core suppliers, which are Ericsson, NSN and Starent Networks. Huawei already supplies Vodafone with circuit-switched mobile soft switches in Hungary, Romania and South Africa and, on the mobile core front, the vendor won a contract with T-Mobile International in December 2007 that was viewed as a European breakthrough deal.

Vodafone and Huawei have teamed up before to co-operate over mobile R&D, with the effort then being on RAN technologies which helped Huawei develop its SDR radio for base stations which Vodafone subsequently trialled.

Commenting on this latest move, Vodafone said: "We're planning our core network architecture evolution and making sure that Huawei's [roadmap] is aligned to match that."

While Vodafone has stated several times it has no plans to deploy LTE until 2011 or 2012, there is growing speculation that it may award some initial contracts as early as a year from now. This could open the doors to new suppliers if Vodafone is willing to adopt a new approach where the core and RAN vendors are more separated.

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