Vodafone stuns TIP Summit by putting whole Euro network up for grabs

Vodafone says it will welcome tenders across its entire radio network - with Open RAN vendors and "incumbents" invited to apply.

Vodafone has said it is putting its entire RAN in the EU up for tender, and will welcome applications from vendors complying to “Open RAN” technologies.

Santiago Tenorio, Head of Network Strategy, Vodafone Group, told a TIP Summit plenary session in Amsterdam on Wednesday morning, “We will put all our footprint in Europe to tender. 100,000 cells and all technologies from 2G to 5G are to tender. We have invited incumbents and also Open RAN suppliers. There have been bigger RFQs like we saw in China, and there will be bigger in the future, but right now this is  the biggest tender there is in this industry in the world.”

This is a really significant opportunity for Open RAN to scale. We are willing to swap out sites if we have to

Tenorio, added, “This is a really significant opportunity for Open RAN to scale. We are willing to swap out sites if we have to. Our ambition is for modern, up to date, lower cost kit in every site across 14 countries. Stay tuned, it may be a significant acceleration of the Open RAN ecosystem.”

Vodafone has rural TIP Open RAN trials ongoing in Mozambique, DRC and Turkey. And has also announced UK trials. Tenorio announced that another European trial of TIP technology is set to go live in Ireland. 

The vendor is keen to move the technology from rural and suburban applications to deploy it in dense urban areas as well. 

Tenorio said that it wants to see a prototype of a “killer radio” by the middle of next year, and is currently putting together an Open RAN reference design for a 160W radio at 1800 MHz, with 4×4 T/R. Tenorio said he would have a General Availability version of this platform by this time next year.

The operator is also engaging with the TIP Open RAN CrowCell design – as supplied for existing live trials by LimeMicrosystems – and sees a 5G NR variant of this as important to 5G dense deployments. The CrowdCell is a user-relay type device that can be backhauled within the macro site coverage.

Miguel Marin, Technology Director, AMAP, Vodafone, added that Open RAN vendors still have some hurdles to overcome. One is to provide multi-band support from a single radio, rather than pair a radio per band. Single band radio has been fine for rural deployments, but needs to change for other use cases, he said.

Samsung wins TIP’s 5G NR RFI

With his TIP board member hat on, Tenorio said that the organisation has already run and completed RFIs for a 5G NR Open RAN design. This followed Telefonica and Vodafone’s RFI for 2-4G products – the winners of which were announced a year ago.

The 5g NR Open RAN project group, which was only proposed a year ago, stipulated that those responding must commit to running RAN software on x86-based GPP, support open interfaces and O-RAN, and also be a TIP member.

Seven companies responded – Altiostar, Altran, Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Phluido, Radisys and Samsung. Samsung was announced as the winner – matching beyond 80% of the RFI’s requirements.

“The results look very good,” Tenoria said, “That tells us if we want to put 5G into Open RAN and take to suburban areas,  we are more ready than we thought.”

With Telefonica, in the form of CTIO Enrique Blanco, also talking up the potential for TIP networking product within an overall disaggregated and open network architecture, this was a morning session that will have been noted in boardrooms in Helsinki, Kista and even, perhaps, Shenzhen.