Vodafone has been on a roll issuing requests for quotes (RFQs) and requests for information (RFIs) as it strives to expand the ecosystem for open radio access network (RAN) equipment. At this week’s Telecom Infra Project (TIP) virtual conference, Vodafone’s head of group network architecture Santiago Tenorio announced the results of an RFI for open RAN radio hardware.
Tenorio named the frontrunners in the RFI, which included some familiar companies such as Fujitsu, Mavenir and Airspan. But there were also some not-so-familiar names including Baicells, Comba and NTS.
The RFI covered multi-band remote radio heads, Massive Mimo radios and single band radios.
“These are the companies you may want to pay attention to,” said Tenorio.” They are the ones who are most compliant to the spec we want to see.”
He said the radios from these vendors will be available for purchase by mid-2021. “This is not only road-map or paperwork. You can buy the radios and deploy them on an open RAN system.”
Wearing his hat as chairman of the board of TIP, Tenorio said vendors join TIP because it’s advancing next-gen telecommunications equipment that will be consistent around the world.
“They know if they build products, they won’t just meet the requirements of one operator or one region," he said. "They will be global products that are consistent across the industry. It gives a huge sense of security for suppliers.”
Tenorio also gave an update on TIP’s own internal project to build open RAN radios – the Evenstar Project.
TIP launched Evenstar In February with a team that included members from Facebook, Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, MTI and AceAxis, among others.
Evenstar’s aim was to design and manufacture a general-purpose radio for 4G and 5G networks aligned with 3GPP and O-RAN Alliance specifications. And the project wanted its radio to cost less than $1,000.
At the TIP virtual conference this week Tenorio said that Evenstar has, in fact, built its first radio. “The testing of that product just finished,” he said. “It’s a product that you can touch. We are now progressing to field trials. It’s going to be taking commercial traffic very soon.”
He said TIP put the Evenstar radio through the rigors of Vodafone’s RFI process to see how it stacked up against the radios of other vendors. “We stayed honest about it, and our product came in the top three in the category,” he said. “Not only is it a radio you will be able to buy below $1,000 per unit, it is actually competing with some of the best radios out there.”
TIP focused the Evenstar radio for the Band-3 (1800 MHz) spectrum. And the Evenstar portfolio is currently limited to that.
Tenorio said so far Evenstar has proved to be a useful learning exercise, and TIP will consider extending the design to cover other bands and maybe even expand its radio work to multi-bands.