The operator said it will work with Intel and others to develop its own chip architecture for Open RAN technology
In the past few years, Open RAN – the concept of using modular, interoperable RAN components from numerous vendors within the same network – has been generating major interest from the telecoms industry around the world. Beyond theoretically allowing for increases in network performance, security, and adaptability, the concept also has a significant impact on the telecoms equipment ecosystem, giving smaller players a chance to participate in a market dominated by giants like Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei.
In fact, it is largely this opening up of the vendor ecosystem that has made Open RAN such a hot topic on a geopolitical level, with many governments pointing out how potentially unhealthy it is for national communications networks to be reliant on sole suppliers.
In the UK, for example, Open RAN was referenced numerous times in the discussions around banning Huawei from the country’s 5G networks. Since then, government has announced a ‘joint ambition’ alongside the nation’s operators that 35% of mobile data traffic be carried over Open RAN architecture by 2030.
But while there are conceptually many benefits from Open RAN, the technology is still in its infancy. Its detractors claim that there are still many technical and regulatory hurdles to be overcome before the technology can challenge the
Vodafone has always been one of Open RAN’s leading champions. Alongside Deutsche Telekom, Orange, TIM, and Telefonica, the company signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the start of 2021 pledging to collaborate on Open RAN’s development. Since then, it has been one of the most active Open RAN proponents amongst the operator giants, especially in the UK, where they quickly opened a Test and Validation Lab for the new technology in April.
By June, Vodafone UK had pledged to build Europe’s first commercial Open RAN network, aiming to upgrade around 2,600 of its UK mobile sites to Open RAN technology by 2027. This represents around a third of its mobile infrastructure in the UK.
Now, is seems that Vodafone is preparing to take their Open RAN focus to new heights, with reports today suggesting that the operator is preparing to work alongside Intel and other chip specialists to develop their own Open RAN chip architecture.
The work will reportedly take place at Vodafone’s new R&D centre in Malaga, Spain, and will include collaboration with around 20 vendors, including Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, ARM, and Microsystems.
The project, which represents an investment off €225 million over the next five years, will reportedly encompass the work of around 50 Open RAN specialists and 650 software engineers. The centre will design silicon for ARM and RISC-V instruction sets, as well as Intel x86, which Vodafone’s director of network architecture Santiago Tenorio suggested was up to three years ahead of its competitors.
In summer last year, Intel announced its plans for a $20 billion ‘ecosystem-wide’ chip project in Europe, including the construction of new fabs, after the EU issued calls to modify the continent’s semiconductor industry and reduce its reliance on US and Asian companies.