VMO2 announces Mavenir as Open RAN partner

Mavenir announced as Open RAN vendor and prime integrator for VMO2, throwing doubt on NEC's role within the Telefonica Group.

Virgin Media O2, Telefonica’s UK operation, has said it has selected Mavenir as its Open RAN vendor and also as its “prime integrator” for Open virtualised Radio Access Network solutions for sites on its network.

In a press release that was light on detail, VMO2 said:

  • It has selected Mavenir “as its Open RAN vendor”
  • Mavenir will also be prime integrator for Open RAN site solutions
  • The two will work together “to roll out a scalable Open vRAN solution as part of its network evolution plans and adopt a more flexible and cloud-native architecture”
  • Mavenir will provide its vRAN software for vDU/vCU functions, as well as its own Open Beam RUs as well as RUs from un-named third party vendors

The release did not state when Open RAN rollouts might start, and at what scale, or in which locations. However, TMN understands that the deal will involve a 2023 commercial deployment.

A VMO2 spokesperson said, “We’ve signed the deal with Mavenir and are now working on the scalable solution. We’re not disclosing the number of sites or timing at this point.”

Mavenir is also not keen to step beyond the bounds of the press release, but it will be keen to leverage the announcement as a message coming from a brownfield operator that is signalling a commitment for Open RAN. Mavenir needs to build further momentum for itself as a network software provider and integrator, especially in major brownfield operators.

Telefonica and Open RAN?

The best way to see VMO2’s motivation for deploying Open RAN is as part of its owner Telefonica’s overall strategy of network transformation. Jorge Ribeiro, Director of Service Platform Strategy & Engineering, Virgin Media O2, spoke at a panel event at MWC 2023 organised by TMN and sponsored by Mavenir. He said in that event that the company was upgrading or replacing “almost everything” in the network to build a foundation to drive business agility. That has meant introducing technology such as cloudification, automation and slicing.  “We have to upgrade many platforms and we are right now on that journey,” he said.

Group owner Telefonica has set several targets for Open RAN in recent years. In 2019 it took a strategic investment in Altiostar before Rakuten bought the vRAN vendor and wrapped it into its Symphony unit. In 2020 it said agreed a collaboration with Altiostar, Gigatera Communications, Intel, Supermicro and Xilinx for the development of Open RAN technologies in 4G and 5G. The operator said then that it would launch 4G and 5G Open RAN trials in UK, Germany, Spain and Brazil that year, using this formation of ecosystem vendors. Group CTO Enrique Blanco said then that 50% of new sites the company deployed between 2022 and 2025 would be Open RAN compliant.

In 2021 it handed a systems integrator role to NEC and said that it would look to have 800 sites live in its four main markets “starting in 2022”. 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.”

In August 2022,  it said that it was turning on its first live, commercial Open RAN sites in the UK – which TMN was told numbered five live sites. That switch-on marked the field phase of Open RAN trials it had been carrying out with chosen system integrator NEC and radio software supplier Altiostar, now operating under the Rakuten Symphony brand.

Today’s Mavenir announcement, which calls the company VMO2’s “Open RAN vendor” and “prime integrator” looks on the face of it to conflict with NEC’s status as system integrator for the 800 site target, as announced in September 2021.