Vodafone says Samsung Open RAN sites have integrated 2G – in a few months

2G, Massive MIMO, new vendors, rollout speed: Vodafone provides extra detail on its Open RAN rollout to TMN.

Builth Wells in Wales, site of Vodafone’s initial Open RAN rural site trial in 2020, where it used Mavenir as an Open RAN small cell provider at an agricultural showground.

Vodafone and Samsung said that volume deployment of their Open RAN solution has “officially” begun. The operator needs to replace 2,500 sites, mostly semi-rural and suburban, that were previously deployed using Huawei radios. It has until 2027 to remove all Huawei equipment from its network.

In joint statements today, the companies said that the site replacement will go ahead in volume, featuring its by now well-known multi vendor design, with Samsung RUs and  4G and 5G vDU-vCU software running in a Wind River cloud environment, on Dell servers based on Intel GPPs and hardware acceleration.

However it also said that “due to the embedded interoperability of OpenRAN Vodafone can explore how working with specialist companies (that would not have been able to otherwise) can introduce novel ways of enhancing customer experience.”

Don’t expect to see any new features or vendors being added too soon, though. Vodafone told TMN in emailed comments, “We do not see the vendor mix changing for the foreseeable future. There might be additional vendors adding into the mix depending on new features development and capability in the ecosystem.”

Support for 2G

Another issue for the replacement programme has been how to retain support for 2G services. Although Vodafone is committed to a 3G switch off, it still needs to support 2G at the replacement sites, mainly for legacy voice and IoT services. That has been a problem because Samsung’s vRAN software initially supported only 4G and 5G. However, in an answer to TMN, Vodafone said that this has been solved. It said, “Open RAN-compliant 2G will be introduced over the next few months, with Samsung being the provider.” Until the swap over to Open RAN 2G is ready, the sites will be built with legacy 2G still running.

It would make sense for the majority of the 2,500 site rollout to take advantage of this 2G capability, rather than roll out a two layer solution in parallel. So although today marks the offical start of volume deployment, Vodafone said to TMN, “We will gradually ramp up over the coming months.” That would give it time to integrate Samsung’s 2G radio into a single RAN plan.

Overall, Vodafone said that “the plan to remove Huawei from the network is still on-track and we will be within Government guidelines. We will be able to provide further updates on progress in the future.”

The operator also said that tests (it has been working with Keysight and Cap Gemini) have proved that performance of this site design is as good as or better than integrated options, and that the sites could also support 64T64R MIMO where needed. The significance of this is that effective support for massive MIMO processing on general purpose compute platforms has been a hot issue for Open RAN. That said, it’s not clear that there will be too many 64T/64R MIMO sites in initial rollouts, with Vodafone telling TMN that MIMO configuration will be addressed on a case-by-case basis dependent on the forecast demand of the site.

“Where there is likely to be higher demand (e.g. urban locations, transport hubs, business parks etc.) Massive MIMO will be deployed,” the operator said.