December 9, 2020
O2 UK added a further vendor to its open radio access network (RAN) roster, announcing that it has piloted the integration and operation of open RAN infrastructure from Ireland-based Vilicom, a mobile communications system integrator.
The Telefónica-owned UK operator trialed Vilicom's Connectivity-as-a-Service (CaaS) network platform, which was developed in partnership with US-headquartered Mavenir and is based on Mavenir's open virtualized RAN technology (vRAN).
The trial comes almost a year after O2 UK said it was turning to open RAN technology to improve its network service for those living in hard-to-reach rural areas and "dense urban hubs." O2 is already working with smaller, "non-traditional" RAN partners including Mavenir, DenseAir and WaveMobile.
Otherwise, O2 UK has been fairly quiet on the subject of open RAN to date, and it isn't under the same Huawei-related pressure as the UK's other operators because its network is provided almost entirely by Ericsson and Nokia. Vodafone UK, notably, has already said it will replace some Huawei equipment with open RAN technology.
Spanish parent Telefónica, however, is pushing hard on open RAN, so it's not surprising to see the UK subsidiary announcing more trials.
Brendan O’Reilly, CTO at O2 UK, said open RAN technology "presents an opportunity to provide better mobile coverage across the UK," and said O2 is working with Vilicom "to enhance indoor coverage for our business customers."
Vilicom has been working with mobile network partners for the last 20 years. It announced its move into the open RAN market in February this year, when it unveiled the CaaS offering and said it is focusing on improving in-building 4G and 5G mobile networks.
The company's foray into open RAN seems a canny move, with operators backing the technology in the hope that it ultimately reduces their costs and injects some much-needed diversity into their stable of network suppliers.
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At the same time, operators know that open RAN is hard to do unless you're a greenfield operator like Rakuten Mobile (Japan) and Dish (US). They have called for a supportive ecosystem with input from industry bodies such as the Telecom Infra Project and the O-RAN Alliance.
Omdia, a sister company of Light Reading, recently said that open RAN is likely to generate about $3.2 billion in annual revenues by 2024, giving it about 9.4% of the total 4G and 5G market.
— Anne Morris, contributing editor, special to Light Reading
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