Tech consortium teams with Vodafone to deploy live Open RAN massive MIMO

NEC Corporation, together with Arm, Qualcomm Technologies, Red Hat and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), has successfully demonstrated end-to-end operation of its open virtual radio access network (vRAN) and 5G Core virtual User Plane Function (vUPF) products in a service optimised for total cost of ownership (TCO) and power efficiency for both edge and datacentres.

Network sustainability continues to be a critical priority given the exponentially increasing traffic demands and associated processing power requirements. The partners stressed that innovation across leading technologies is important to help accelerate sustainability gains into the commercial network, which has been represented by the milestone.

The demonstration used HPE ProLiant servers running Arm Neoverse-based CPUs and the Qualcomm X100 5G RAN Accelerator Card with Red Hat OpenShift, in conditions equivalent to a commercial environment.

NEC’s Open vRAN and the 5G Core vUPF deployed on the same server as the vCU are cloud-native applications, compliant with O-RAN Alliance and 3GPP standards. They support multiple servers and virtualisation platforms, and are flexible and scalable for a variety of network scenarios and configurations.

The partners said the harnessing of an in-line accelerator is an example of Open RAN enabling a multi-supplier landscape using modern network equipment, and workload-optimised compute independent of CPU architecture, as opposed to all workload processing being done on legacy, single-supplier equipment.

With this demonstration, NEC said its mobile virtualisation software suites (Open vRAN and vUPF) have also proven a high degree of flexibility and portability over various servers and virtualisation platforms.

The company added that by successfully demonstrating call processing and packet communication in conditions that are equivalent to a commercial environment, and using Arm-based servers and X100 with enhanced power and space savings, the range of applications of Arm-based servers is now further expanded, confirming the potential to significantly reduce the TCO for mobile networks.

One company that has been a leading proponent of Open RAN services is Vodafone, which has just started the roll-out of commercial Open RAN in Romania.

In August 2023, the firm began commercial roll-out of Open RAN to 2,500 sites in the UK, and has now announced the deployment of NEC Massive MIMO technology on a live Open RAN site in the south west of the region, replacing the existing technology. The installation is fully integrated into the existing OpenRAN stack.

The Vodafone team will now test and optimise the technology, before deploying on a number of new sites to support higher traffic demands. 

“Vodafone is keen to see the diversification of the ecosystem for silicon architecture with the demonstration of an ARM-based Open RAN platform, widening the choice of power efficient compute solutions,” said Andy Dunkin, the company’s Open RAN RF and digital platform development manager. “The maturity of Arm-based architecture, combined with high-quality NEC vRAN and acceleration from Qualcomm, shows the continuing progress made on the interoperability of Open RAN software and hardware.”

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