Vodafone just gave open RAN vendors a huge opportunity

In other big news from Vodafone, the company also issued a request for information for 5G new radio. (Screenshot of TIP Summit slide)

Vodafone’s head of network strategy and architecture Santiago Tenorio announced today at the Telecom Infra Project (TIP) Summit in Amsterdam that Vodafone will issue a request for quotes (RFQ) for open RAN technology for its entire European footprint.

“That’s significantly more than 100,000 sites, and all the technologies are to tender — 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G,” said Tenorio. “We’ve invited the incumbent suppliers in Europe of course, but we’ve also invited the open RAN suppliers.”

The tender provides a significant opportunity for open RAN to scale. “I think that right now this is the biggest tender that there is in this industry in the world,” he said. “Our ambition is to have modern up-to-date, lower-cost kit in every site. We are willing to swap out sites if we have to. This is going to come in the next few months. It may be a significant acceleration of the open RAN ecosystem.”

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RELATED: Vodafone initiates first open RAN trials in the U.K., challenging traditional vendors

To prepare for its open RAN request for quotes, Vodafone has been conducting open RAN trials in the U.K. And today, Tenorio said the operator is actually conducting open RAN tests in both the U.K. and in Ireland. He said the company is working with two different open RAN vendors, although he didn’t name them.

5G NR RFI

In other big news from Vodafone today, Tenorio said the company also issued a request for information (RFI) for 5G new radio (NR), and it has already gotten the results. The operator sent the RFI to the incumbent European telecom vendors as well as to several smaller vendors. “Unfortunately, the incumbent suppliers did not respond,” he said. “But seven companies did respond. They did fantastic work in record time.” Those companies are Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Samsung, Altran, Phluido, Altiostar and Radisys.

Vodafone put several conditions on the companies for its 5G NR request. Their software needs to run on x86 servers; they need to be ready to open their interfaces and support multi-vendor environments; they must support the O-RAN specification; and they must also be a member of TIP. 

After assessing all the submissions, Vodafone selected Samsung as the winner. “There is one company that is particularly bright, and that is Samsung,” said Tenorio. “Their level of compliance to our requirements is spectacular; it’s beyond 80%. That tells us that if we want to put 5G into open RAN and take it to suburban and urban areas, we are probably more ready than we thought.”

Finally, as if Vodafone isn’t already championing open RAN enough, the company is working with TIP to create a reference design for a “killer” 1800 4x4 MIMO, 160-watt radio. The company wants to unify the radio requirements of operators and distill those into reference designs that can be used to create radios. Its goal is to also reduce the cost of the radios. 

“If I’m speaking at TIP 2020, I’ll come with one of these white boxes,” said Tenorio.

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