Vodafone boosts 5G capacity in open RAN demo

Vodafone is touting a 5G capacity boost in a multi-vendor environment, during a demo running software from Cohere Technologies on a pre-standards Open RAN-aligned platform from VMware.

Capgemini Engineering, Intel, and Telecom Infra Project (TIP) were also involved in the lab test.

Vodafone said it was the first demonstration of 5G Multi-User MIMO (MU-MIMO) running on a RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) platform in an open RAN test site.

Cohere’s Spectrum Multiplier MU-MIMO scheduler was used and based on performance, the operator pegged it to achieve up to 2x the capacity than traditional MIMO once commercially deployed in a low-band network like 700 MHz.

Extending the software to Massive MIMO in mid-band spectrum, such as 3.5 GHz, the capacity boost could near 4 to 5x, according to Vodafone.

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“We are pleased to work with Vodafone and ecosystem partners to demonstrate the power of our Spectrum Multiplier software with MU-MIMO.  It shows how the functionalities held remotely can provide mobile network providers with the flexibility to keep network intelligence localized at the tower, or hosted at the edge data center, while improving spectrum assets,” said Ray Dolan, chairman and CEO of Cohere Technologies, in a statement.

VMware’s RIC platform supported open APIs for third-party applications, or xApps, implementing pre-standards open interfaces towards the baseband.  Capgemini software provided baseband radio functions to execute the MU-MIMO actions, while Intel’s FlexRAN software provided the 5G New Radio physical layer and COTS hardware hosted both the RIC platform and baseband.

"This initiative validates the role that this powerful new platform plays in defining Open RAN as the future of networking. It boosts capacity for customers when they need it most, reduces the need for expensive hardware by a third and cuts down on energy consumption," said Francisco Martín, head of Open RAN at Vodafone, in a statement. 

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The O-RAN Alliance is standardizing the architecture for RIC. Other vendors such as Nokia have been involved, and alongside AT&T proved RIC technology on the carrier’s live 5G network in earlier trials.

With RIC, external applications known as xApps can be introduced to control some parts of the radio network more quickly and without interruption. And operators can integrate applications from different sources or vendors to introduce services, improve spectral efficiency, boost network capacity or other benefits. 

TIP launched RAN Intelligence Automation (RIA) subgroup to aggregate operator use cases for RIC platforms, speed up multi-vendor RIC solutions and create, test and deploy specific solutions.

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The SD-RAN project, meanwhile, said it's focused on building an open source Near Real-Time Intelligent Controller (nRT-RIC) compatible with O-RAN architecture.

ABI Research recently pegged open RAN RIC as poised to “disrupt the status quo” for 5G RAN and “create new opportunities for a wider ecosystem to join this segment of the market.”

That said, the ecosystem still needs to develop further.

“The development of RIC solutions is expanding rapidly, but the new approach may not be dominating the mainstream global deployment within the next 2 to 3 years due to the ongoing standardization and the lack of a mature application ecosystem,” ABI stated.

The firm expects standard global RIC deployments to happen between 2024-2025.