Samsung lands more Open RAN business with Vodafone

  • Vodafone has announced two commercial Open RAN pilots in Germany
  • Samsung is providing software and hardware for both
  • The vendor is already a key supplier for Vodafone’s Open RAN efforts in the UK
  • The operator made multiple other Open RAN announcements as it works towards major Open RAN deployments
  • Another of those announcements also included Samsung

MADRID – Fyuz 2022 – Samsung is rapidly emerging as Vodafone’s go-to partner for Open RAN deployments, with the South Korean vendor being named as the leading supplier of hardware and software for two commercial Open RAN pilot deployments that Vodafone is planning in Germany next year. 

Samsung is already the key partner for Vodafone’s Open RAN efforts in the UK, which began earlier this year with a 5G site outside the city of Bath, and is due to expand in the next two months with a cluster of Open RAN sites near the English seaside town of Torquay, a deployment Vodafone’s director of network architecture, Santiago Tenorio, has referred to in the past as its “golden cluster”. The other vendors involved in the UK deployments are Dell (servers), Intel (Xeon processors) and Wind River (cloud-native function management and orchestration platform). 

Now Vodafone is to deploy the same technology combination in two rural areas of Germany – by doing that it doesn’t need to go through a new systems integration process. However, Tenorio noted, on the sidelines of the Fyuz event, that while the technology combination is the same, there are new elements that need to be used because the radio bands deployed by Vodafone Germany differ from those in the UK, so different radio heads will need to be used, for example. The sites will be designed to provide 2G, 4G and 5G services. 

The key advantage of the deployments in Germany will be the experience gained by the local network operations team, noted Tenorio, because deploying and running the sites and, in particular, managing the software updates involves a way of working that is completely different to running a traditional radio access network (RAN). 

Vodafone needs that kind of experience in multiple markets because, as Tenorio reminded attendees at the Madrid event during a keynote session on Tuesday morning, Vodafone is aiming to have 30% of its radio access network sites across Europe running Open RAN technology by 2030, “and that means we will need to start deploying at scale in 2025” which, in turn, means issuing requests for proposals (RFPs) in 2024 and engaging with multiple potential technology partners right now. 

For Samsung, being the key technology partner in Germany is another feather in its radio access network cap, though it remains a way off being the natural third choice (after Ericsson and Nokia) for major RAN deployments, at least for now. 

But it’s interesting to note that another of today’s Vodafone Open RAN announcements also involved Samsung as, along with Vodafone, it is working with chip vendor Marvell to enhance the performance of Open RAN networks – see Vodafone and Samsung cooperate with Marvell to accelerate Open RAN performance and adoption.

Essentially, the trio are working on an Open RAN architecture that includes a Marvell in-line accelerator which, in theory, improves the performance of the baseband element by taking the processing strain off the centralised processing unit (CPU), a move that also reduces the power consumption of the system and disaggregates a key set of capabilities in the distributed units, which today mostly host Intel CPUs that are tightly integrated with Intel acceleration technology.

As Vodafone notes: “The specialised silicon chips commonly known as accelerators, tailored for radio networks, can help to better handle the vast capacity demands in densely populated urban areas with enormous volumes of mobile traffic, as opposed to solely relying on a general purpose processor (GPP). Accelerators can deliver massive MIMO – the technology developed to serve many customers in dense urban areas, such as shopping centres, sports arenas, and business parks. This ‘acceleration’ in the distributed unit (DU) of the Open RAN architecture enhances the overall speed and reliability of any Open RAN mobile site.” 

If Samsung and Marvell can deliver on what Vodafone is looking for in terms of performance improvement, it’s hard to see this combination not being considered for mass deployment by Vodafone unless, of course, other radio vendors and accelerator technology developers can deliver even greater improvements in Open RAN architectures. 

- Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV


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