Millicom to deploy O-RAN with Parallel Wireless in Latin America

Millicom antenna photo
A successful Open RAN rollout in Colombia is the first objective, but Millicom is looking to bring the technology to other markets. (Millicom)

Mobile operator Millicom has tapped Parallel Wireless to help deploy 4G services in more rural parts of Colombia using O-RAN-compliant architecture.

The rollout marks a first for open RAN networks in Latin America enabling 4G. Plans initially call for 362 sites, with service provided through Millicom’s Tigo brand.

In Columbia, there are still 10 million people connecting to 2G and 3G, according to Millicom. And the operator said it needs to find cost-effective, easy to deploy ways to close that digital divide.

“Open RAN is the answer to efficiently build digital highways to connect more and more Colombians,” a Millicom spokesperson told Fierce.

Locations slated for 4G connectivity via open RAN include in Cundinamarca, Meta, Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, Tolima, Huila, Caquetá, Risaralda, Caldas, Quindío. 

REALATED: Etisalat taps Parallel Wireless for open RAN trials

The first phase of deployment is expected to be completed by March of 2022, followed by new rollouts over a four-year period, according to the spokesperson.

While a successful open RAN rollout in Colombia is the first objective, the spokesperson said Millicom “will expand the technology to all our markets,” with more specifics to come later.

Millicom is using spectrum in the 700 MHz band and Parallel Wireless is acting as the main systems integrator. As new vendors are introduced, some operators haven taken on the role themselves but historically often looked to their main RAN vendor. In playing with the likes of Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei, Eugina Jordan, VP of Marketing at Parallel, told Fierce the open RAN vendor “needed to act like a big boy.”

“It was a big RFP that we responded to and they selected Parallel Wireless because we can bring all of those components together,” she said. “We’re not necessarily going to be climbing on top of the tower but we will bring all of those partners together” including an ecosystem of hardware, software, orchestration, RIC, xApps, and systems integration.

RELATED: AT&T, Nokia prove open RIC platform in live 5G network trial

The initial sites will be built with a Remote Radio Unit (RRU) from partners and Parallel Wireless’ distributed Unit (DU) and central Unit (CU) software running on a virtualized baseband unit.

 Phase one of the project will employ 7.2 (an O-RAN Alliance split option) radios and Jordan said site configuration can happen very quickly. Parallel’s DU and CU software will run on Super Micro servers deployed on site. Partners for things like orchestration haven’t been decided yet, but she pointed to VMware and Red Hat among options. 

With O-RAN-compliant interfaces between the disaggregated components, the deployment will allow Millicom to mix and match radios, software, and COTS servers. Parallel Wireless is a new vendor for Millicom, which has also worked with traditional network suppliers. Rather than a replacement for the operator’s existing equipment vendors, Jordan categorized Parallel as an alternative.

RELATED: AT&T, Dish hail open RAN, T-Mobile not so much

O-RAN architecture also enables more automation, Jordan explained, along with components like a real-time intelligent controller (RIC) for optimization with artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

Nokia and AT&T are two partners that have been working on an O-RAN complaint RIC, including trials on the operator’s live mmWave 5G network in New York City.

In Latin America Parallel Wireless also deployed open RAN in Peru with IpT. Internet para Todos Perú (IpT) formed in May 2019 and is owned by Telefónica, Facebook, IDB Invest and CAF banks.

RELATED: Vodafone Ireland deploys open RAN tech at 30 sites

At just under 1,000 sites, using different configurations, IpT’s is the largest Open RAN deployment in the world and has been operational for about two years, according to Jordan. TIM Brazil is another operator trialing the technology, with participating from Parallel.

The vendor has open RAN deployments on six continents and is running live traffic in the U.S and Latin America, Jordan said. Other regions include Africa with MTN, Orange and Vodafone – Vodafone also tapped the vendor for sites in Ireland. And last year Parallel announced collaboration with Etisalat for open RAN trials in markets across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.