The UK operator said it would be selecting open RAN vendors to replace around one-third of Huawei equipment currently in its networks

When the UK first decided to limit Huawei’s participation in the country’s upcoming 5G networks back in January, few could have predicted that almost a year later the Chinese vendor would be facing a total phase out by 2027 and open RAN would be a viable option for their replacement. 
Yet this is exactly what Vodafone UK has decided, with CTO Scott Petty telling the Financial Times that Vodafone’s “commitment can get open RAN ready for prime time.”
Vodafone plans to replace Huawei equipment with open RAN alternatives at around 2,600 sites, making the largest open RAN commitment by a European operator to date. This represents about a third of the Huawei equipment currently used by the operator.
Open RAN has been making waves across Europe recently, with numerous operators exploring the technology to various degrees. Telefonica is a particular advocate, having joined forces with Japan’s open RAN operator Rakuten back in September.
The concept relies on creating vendor-neutral, interoperable hardware and software that can be easily interchanged by operators, allowing them greater choice, greater customisability, and less reliance on specific vendors. 
But while open RAN certainly offers many advantages for vendors, it is not without its issues too. The technology itself is still very much in its infancy and its ability to deliver quality to the same extent of the traditional vendors remains in question. Part of this is a lack of scale – companies like Nokia and Ericsson spent billions on R&D and manufacturing every year, something which smaller vendors simply cannot compete with. 
However, with growing interest from vendors around the world, these issues will likely be quickly overcome. For now, Vodafone’s deployment intends to target rural areas, where the technology presumably stands a better chance of meeting network requirements. 
Exactly which open RAN vendors Vodafone will select remains to be seen, but it is clear that the operator is trying to position itself as a pioneer in this emerging technology within the UK. The operator was one of the first in the UK to begin trialling open RAN, doing so back in 2019, also announcing a live 4G open RAN deployment back in August.
The other major UK operators will surely watch this development with interest. Despite their own varying interest in open RAN technology, Three and BT have instead already selected the traditional vendors to replace their Huawei technology (Ericsson for Three, and both Ericcson and Nokia for BT). O2 had no reliance on Huawei within its network, so will need no replacement kit.
Last month ABI Research predicted a major growth in Open RAN technology over the coming decade, forecasting investment into the technology to outpace that of traditional RAN equipment by 2027.
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