Vodafone turned to Japanese and US suppliers to fill the void left by Huawei in its 5G supply chain after the British telecom operator awarded Europe’s first major “open RAN” contract to a group of alternative suppliers.
The carrier handed over a contract to Samsung Electronics, NEC, Dell and Wind River to build the first commercial RAN network in Europe. Capgemini, the French consulting group, and Keysight Technologies in the US will work on the network integration.
The contract provides a major boost to Samsung and NEC, Asian equipment suppliers that have struggled to compete with Huawei, Ericsson and Nokia in the 4G era, as carriers look to smaller suppliers to build 5G networks.
“Open RAN” is a concept that threatens to break the stranglehold on the largest telecom equipment suppliers in the wireless market, who tightly connect proprietary hardware with software. The open system allows small and innovative suppliers to break into the 5G market and has been championed by the US and British governments as a way to increase competition after Huawei, the largest equipment supplier, was banned from 5G networks.
The UK government’s decision last year to ban the use of new Huawei equipment for 5G networks from 2021 and phase out existing equipment by 2027, has led operators including Vodafone and Telefónica to accelerate plans to use alternative suppliers of radio equipment.
The UK government and the European Commission have pushed the concept of “Open RAN” as a way to boost their technology industries by opening up huge amounts of telecom spending to smaller local hardware and software providers. The British and German governments made public funds available to develop open RAN technology, but they stopped supporting companies like Vodafone to replace Huawei equipment.
This has caused tension within the industry given that Ericsson and Nokia, two of Europe’s biggest technology companies, are already offering alternatives to Huawei.
However, Vodafone’s initial contracts, awarded after months of testing various open RAN vendors, went to Asian and US suppliers. The company said it may look to use Europe-based sellers in the future. “With industrial and industrial policy support from the European Commission and national governments in the European Union, an open RAN has the potential to bring more European companies into this emerging market,” she said.
Initial work will be in the UK, where 2500 mast will be upgraded in the southwest and covering most of Wales to use open RAN equipment. It will expand the open RAN push into Europe and Africa over time.
Johan Weberg, chief technology officer at Vodafone, said the network overhaul would increase flexibility for operators. “The open RAN network is also revitalizing our industry. It will boost the digital economy by spurring more technological innovation from a broader group of vendors, bringing much-needed diversity into the supply chain.”