Vodafone to fast-track Arm-based OpenRAN for mobile networks

Working with Ampere and others in modular approach

Telecoms giant Vodafone is backing more than one horse in the OpenRAN arena, confirming a collaboration with Arm on energy efficient silicon for 5G base stations and continuing to work with Intel on OpenRAN silicon.

Vodafone aims to “fast-track” development of platforms for OpenRAN using the Arm architecture in order to meet growing customer demand for “faster, greener” mobile connectivity.

OpenRAN, or Open Radio Access Networks, is an approach to building mobile infrastructure using open interface specifications between functional elements. The idea is that it allows operators to choose network equipment from different suppliers, plus the elements can be implemented as software to run on standard hardware.

Vodafone says it is working with Arm-based processor maker Ampere and network kit specialist SynaXG to test and validate Arm-based silicon for OpenRAN applications.

Testing is scheduled to begin this year on the hardware, before integrating 5G commercial OpenRAN software from Fujitsu and then testing at Vodafone’s facilities at Málaga in Spain, and Newbury in the UK, expected in the first quarter of 2024. The telco says kit from additional vendors will follow.

Vodafone’s director of Network Architecture, Santiago Tenorio, said the move will widen the chip and software ecosystem for OpenRAN solutions.

“By expanding the number of competing best-in-class suppliers, we can drive greater innovation, energy efficiency and security for the benefit of our customers,” he said.

The company is already working with Intel on similar solutions. According to Reuters, Tenorio indicated the two companies are working to create a purpose-built chipset architecture at Vodafone’s R&D facility in Spain. Intel is set to deliver sample silicon to enable the operator to begin testing.

The resulting chipsets will also be available to third-party vendors to test their own solutions without having to make their own financial investment in silicon, Tenorio said at the Telecom Infra Project’s FYUZ event in Madrid.

Likewise, Vodafone is also promising that the fruits of its Arm-based partnership will be made available to the entire industry. Voda says it'll provide smaller companies with the necessary testing and verification support to able to contribute to OpenRAN projects.

The telco this week announced additional plans to run a commercial 5G OpenRAN pilot in Italy with the help of network kit provider Nokia.

This pilot will operate at a cluster of sites in northern Italy, and will involve containerized baseband software from Nokia running on Red Hat OpenShift, with the hardware comprising Dell PowerEdge XR8000 servers with a SmartNIC network accelerator developed by Nokia in cooperation with Marvell.

Earlier this year, Vodafone disclosed plans to lay off 11,000 workers over three years as part of its efforts to restructure operations and reduce cost following a period of relatively poor commercial performance.

In the UK, Vodafone is set to merge with network operator Three to create a telecoms operator with the scale to be able to compete against rivals BT and Virgin Media O2, which have each assimilated other mobile operators. The merger is expected to be completed before the end of 2024. ®

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