Following a successful trial in 2021, the first five Open RAN sites are now live on Virgin Media O2’s network to handle commercial traffic.

Developed in partnership with NEC Corporation and Rakuten Symphony, this field test of open radio access network (RAN) technology is part of a UK government initiative to “deliver on the UK’s 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy’s goals for resilient and secure networks with competitive and innovative supply chains.”

5G antenna base telco

Open RAN is the disaggregation of the radio access network into parts which are interconnected by open, standards-based, interoperable interfaces, using open, standards-based protocols.

Running on a brownfield network in Northamptonshire, the deployment is baselined on the existing Telco Cloud supply chain and combines NEC’s system integration capabilities and fully open end-to-end solution with Rakuten Symphony’s Open RAN software, edge cloud, and radio management and operations system.

According to the UK government’s policy paper on Open RAN principles, Open RAN aims to combat a situation where “the most critical infrastructure of modern UK networks is being built out using only two vendors.” 

Fostering greater innovation in 5G networks

In addition, it is hoped that by enabling open disaggregation, standards-based compliance, demonstrated interoperability and implementation neutrality through Open RAN, it will increase security and resilience, foster greater innovation, and lead to a more open, dynamic and efficient market for telecom technology and the services.

“The successful activation of Virgin Media O2’s first UK macro-sites demonstrates the potential of the multi-vendor Open RAN model,” said Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2. “We are strong believers in the power of diverse Open RAN ecosystems and in NEC, we have a partner that really shares our view. Its industry-leading system integration capabilities are integral in helping us deliver the mobile networks of the future, today.”

Rabih Dabboussi, Chief Business Officer of Rakuten Symphony, added that: “Rakuten Symphony and NEC have complementary solutions providing advanced and highly automated Open RAN, edge cloud and proven operational systems, and this deployment in the UK for Virgin Media O2 demonstrates innovation and technology leadership.

“Rakuten Symphony’s Open RAN software, combined with NEC’s world-class radios and system integration capabilities, validate the transformative potential that Open RAN technology brings to the industry.”

To read more about developments in mobile technology, read 5G in broadcast: 5G TV online.