NEC joins Orange’s experimental 5G network

  • Orange is running an experimental 5G standalone network
  • The operator wants to understand how a cloud-oriented, open, automated mobile network would operate
  • NEC has become the latest in the legion of vendors providing Orange with their latest Open RAN-compliant technology  

NEC has joined the throng of vendors involved in Orange’s experimental standalone (SA) 5G network, Pikeo, which was unveiled by the operator’s chief technology and innovation officer, Michaël Trabbia, in June 2021. 

The Pikeo network has been deployed so that Orange can better understand how a cloud-oriented, open API-based, automated, multi-vendor 5G standalone (SA) network might operate and be best deployed (if at all).  

The Japanese vendor says its 32T32R massive MIMO (mMIMO) active antenna unit (AAU) has been deployed with Mavenir’s open virtualised RAN software to deliver high-capacity and enhanced coverage. “Interoperability between radios and virtualised distributed units (vDUs) over the O-RAN Alliance open fronthaul interface is key to Open RAN's ability to simplify the deployment of multi-vendor networks and eliminate vendor lock-in,” notes NEC. 

Enabling mMIMO in Open RAN-enabled networks is important for the operator supporters of the disaggregated architecture as it will be needed for high-capacity urban deployments: If Open RAN architectures can’t cope economically and securely with the challenging data traffic loads that operators have to deal with in packed city centres in peak hours, then such disaggregated networks will be confined to rural backwaters and make little impact on the radio access network sector.   

The trial network involving NEC and Mavenir has been deployed at the Orange Gardens campus near Paris, which is now serving as an extension of the main Pikeo network in Lannion in north-west France. 

“Mavenir and NEC's successful Open RAN deployment of mMIMO on Orange's Innovation 5G SA experimental network is a major stepping stone on the road towards Open RAN deployments and illustrates Orange's commitment to supporting the development of multi-vendor Open RAN solutions with innovative partners,” noted Arnaud Vamparys, senior vice president of radio access networks and microwaves at Orange. “Our Open RAN Integration Centre, open to our partners worldwide, contributes to the development of a strong Open RAN ecosystem in Europe," he added. 

When Pikeo was unveiled, Mavenir was named as one of the initial vendors, along with MTI (radio heads), Casa Systems (5G SA Core), Hewlett Packard Enterprise (5G SA subscriber data management software), Amdocs (BSS tools), Dell Technologies (servers and other hardware for the RAN centralised unit, distributed unit and core), and Xiaomi (end user devices).

The announcement marks yet another instance of NEC’s involvement in the Open RAN plans of some of the world’s major operators: It already plays a major role in the 4G and 5G networks built by Rakuten Mobile and NTT Docomo in Japan, and is working with the likes of Deutsche Telekom and Telefónica on their Open RAN tests and trials, the most recent of which is in the UK where NEC is involved in the initial production network Open RAN rollout by Virgin Media O2 (a joint venture of Telefónica and Liberty Global). For more on NEC’s aspirations, see NEC builds the foundations for 5G and Open RAN-enabled global growth.

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV


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