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Optical/IP

Huawei, Vodafone Delve Into Mobile Core

Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. and Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD) deepened their relationship today with the opening of a new lab in Italy dedicated to mobile core network research and development.

At the new Core Network Innovation Center in Milan, the two companies said they will work together on developing core networking technologies with an initial focus on IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), fixed/mobile convergence (FMC), and mobile broadband. (See Vodafone, Huawei Open Core Lab.)

It's not the first time Vodafone and Huawei have teamed up to share space in the lab to tinker with mobile technologies. Back in December 2007, they set up a research center in Madrid, to work on radio access network (RAN) technologies. The result of that collaboration was Huawei's software-defined radio unit for base stations that support both GSM and WCDMA, which Vodafone subsequently trialed. (See Huawei Opens Italian Center, Huawei, VOD Go Soft in the RAN, Huawei, VOD Do Single RAN, and Huawei Wins Vodafone Deal.)

Today's move shows that Huawei is now maneuvering for a position deeper in Vodafone's mobile network and could be muscling in on Vodafone's current mobile core suppliers, which are Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC), Nokia Networks , and Starent Networks Corp. (Nasdaq: STAR). (See Cisco to Buy Starent for $2.9B.)

Huawei already supplies Vodafone with circuit-switched mobile softswitches in Hungary and Romania. And on the mobile core front, the vendor won a contract with T-Mobile International AG in December 2007 that was viewed as a European breakthrough deal. (See Huawei's Core Euro Breakthrough.)

There are scant details on exactly what the companies will be doing in the lab with IMS, FMC, and "mobile broadband." But the work could also include packet core development, particularly in the Evolved Packet Core (EPC) for future proto-4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) networks.

A Vodafone spokesman says the new center is a way for the operator to get "greater cost efficiencies" through collaboration, noting that future core network developments will be on the agenda. (See Vodafone Tests LTE With Huawei and Huawei Joins Vodafone LTE Trial.)

"We're planning our core network architecture evolution and making sure that Huawei's [roadmap] is aligned to match that," says a Vodafone spokesman.

According to Heavy Reading senior analyst Gabriel Brown, Huawei is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with when it comes to packet core technology.

"Huawei is gaining share as fast as, or faster than, any other mobile packet core supplier," says Brown, who is currently working on a new EPC report. "It has now broken out of the low-cost GPRS market and offers a highly competitive 3G/HSPA core and has been selected as a primary supplier by some of the world’s leading operators.

"Continued market share growth is a question of time for Huawei. Packet core still lags its share of the radio access market by perhaps a few points, but the gap will close steadily. Huawei is likely to gain significantly in the transition to Evolved Packet Core as part of its very competitive stance to LTE, where it is expected to be one the premier end-to-end vendors."

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

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