Telefonica hands NEC wider role in Open RAN rollout

Telefonica says it will have 800 commercial Open RAN sites in its four big markets "starting from" 2022, and NEC will act as Systems Integrator.

Telefonica has said it will have 800 live commercial Open RAN sites across its four core operating countries, “starting in” 2022.

NEC, which has been acting as Systems Integrator for trials of O-RAN technology by Telefonica in the UK and Germany, will take on a role as Systems Integrator of multi-vendor trials and commercial deployments in those two countries, Spain and Brazil.

A release from NEC said, “Following the successful milestones achieved through the trials in Telefónica Germany and the UK, under this agreement, NEC will serve as the prime system integrator to implement and conduct trials of multi-vendor-based Open RAN solutions with the Telefonica group’s operating companies in four global markets, planned to scale to a total of at least 800 sites for commercial use starting in 2022.”

The two companies said they will also be working to validate various Open RAN use cases at the newly established Telefónica Technology and Automation Lab in Madrid, including those built on AI-driven Radio Intelligent Controllers (RIC) for RAN optimisation, service lifecycle automation based on Service Management and Orchestration (SMO), testing and deployment automation in accordance with Telefónica’s Continuous Integration/ Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) framework, as well as power savings optimization.

NEC’s Global Open RAN Center of Excellence (CoE) in the UK will lead the integration and validation of the multi-vendor ecosystem and the joint development of innovative use cases with Telefónica.

Telefonica said back in 2020 that it was targeting “industrialised Open RAN” in the same four countries within the calendar year, using an ecosystem made up of Altiostar (in which it held a strategic stake), Gigatera (KMW) for radio unit hardware, Xilinx and Intel.

This most recent announcement says that there might be 800 sites live and commercial in 2022, developed under the auspices of a named Systems Integrator that was not in the 2020 announcement.

Also in 2020, Telefonica had also previously looked at a collaboration with Rakuten to develop an Open RAN automation and OSS technology stack, and to enter into a joint procurement agreement in some areas. At that time, Enrique Blanco, Group CTO, said that one of his aims was to open up a path for Systems Integrators to solve deployment and management issues for the operator.

We are trying to open the ecosystem for new integrators, to see if they can solve a significant part of the problem that we need to solve,” Blanco said.

It has therefore taken about a year for Telefonica to affirm its System Integrator strategy, and to commit to a set number of sites it wants to deploy from 2022. As a signatory to a multi-operator MoU on Open RAN, the operator has said it wants about 50% of its new RAN sites to be Open RAN, by 2025.