Orange and Vodafone struck an agreement to share Open RAN (O-RAN) networks to spread 4G and 5G coverage in rural parts of Europe, deploying their first commercial sites in Bucharest, Romania.
Testing of the O-RAN solution on a live network will be carried out throughout this year to yield a like-for-like comparison with legacy networks and to accurately showcase the performance parity between O-RAN and traditional RAN solutions. The project could provide a blueprint for other markets.
In a joint statement, the operators stated this marks the first time they agreed to share O-RAN infrastructure. It will provide initial real-life experience of a new operational model based on the integration of multi-vendor hardware and software, paving the way for wider-scale deployments.
Orange and Vodafone are currently scouting for a vendor for the construction of the third phase of this project.
O-RAN infrastructure provides operators with greater flexibility when adding new radio sites or when upgrading existing ones, and provides energy-saving benefits. This agreement also supports the European Commission’s target to have 5G in all populated areas by 2030, noted the operators.
An open infrastructure also enables the operating giants to tailor services and capacity to specific customer needs.
Orange chief technology and innovation officer Michael Trabbia said: “It is a major step towards agile and fully-automated networks, unleashing the potential of virtualization and AI to boost performance while driving both infrastructure and operational costs down.
“In particular, Open RAN is a great opportunity to take network sharing to a whole new dimension, with even higher operator differentiation thanks to the ability for each of the partners to tune its network more independently according to its promises towards its own customers.”
Vodafone chief network officer Alberto Ripepi added: “By combining resources, we will reduce the cost of hardware, minimise fuel consumption and the need for duplicate sites whilst eradicating coverage not-spots.
“Open RAN also means we can more quickly add new software features without necessarily replacing the hardware components, which is often the case today. This minimises any disruption to service and ensures customers in rural areas receive the same upgrades as those in the cities.”