NEC’s new UK Centre of Excellence is bearing fruit, completing a trial in the UK using O2’s core network

Last month, four of Europe’s largest operators – Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Orange, and Telefonica – signed a memorandum of understanding, agreeing to help collaborate on the development of Open RAN technology over the coming years. Now, less than two weeks later, Telefonica’s UK brand O2 has announced a successful trial of the vendor-neutral technology with Japan’s NEC.
The trial reportedly took place over O2’s core network, using NEC’s Open RAN architecture, created in partnership with numerous ecosystem partners including Altiostar, GigaTera Communications, and Supermicro.
The test took place at NEC’s Centre of Excellence, which was announced in November last year, seemingly facilitated by the UK’s signing of a free trade agreement with Japan in late October. 
“The partnership between NEC and O2 promises to accelerate the provision and growth of Open RAN solutions in the UK. O2 will continue to transform our network through collaboration and the optimisation of new technologies such as Open RAN,” said O2’s COO, Derek McManus.
NEC is not the only partner working with O2 on Open RAN solutions. Earlier this year, O2 announced a new Open RAN project featuring partners such as Mavenir, DenseAir, and WaveMobile, suggesting that the technology could enable a better network service to both hard-to-reach rural customers as well as those in dense urban hubs. As part of the announcement, O2 noted that they expected Open RAN technology to develop rapidly over the next 18–24 months. 
Despite this flurry of research, however, a tangible commitment to deploying Open RAN remains to be seen. Vodafone said back in November that it would be replacing around one-third of the Huawei equipment currently in its network with Open RAN alternatives, meaning around 2,600 sites in England and Wales will receive the upgrade. No other UK operator has made a similar commitment so far.
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