Vodafone Draws Bead On Open RAN Silicon
December 15, 2022
plans to further support new vendors in the evolving Open RAN ecosystem
by helping specialist chipset manufacturers secure a foothold in the
provision of next generation networks.
Recently, Vodafone announced collaborative arrangements with companies
such as Accelercomm in the UK and US-based EdgeQ. Today, it unveiled the
latest company to join the Open RAN cast, Saankhya Labs, which is
headquartered in India.
Open RAN Chips
These companies are pioneering the development of specialised silicon
chips for Open RAN. Known as ‘accelerators’, these chips are critical in
being able to apply a 5G technology called Massive MIMO to Open RAN,
giving it the capacity to support thousands of users from a single mast.
Network traffic can be more effectively processed because these
accelerators have ‘dedicated network aware silicon.’ This means that
they are purposely built for mobile base stations, performing better
than general purpose silicon chips with the added benefit of lower
energy consumption. In future, Vodafone predicts that they will become a
significant contributor to its ‘green’ agenda of achieving net zero by
Open RAN chips
Massive MIMO might sound like the bigger cousin of a Pokémon character,
but there’s nothing cartoony about the way it increases the number of
user connections for a single antenna. This significantly improves the
performance for customers when using their handsets in a busy area such
as shopping centres and business parks, without the need for multiple
Alberto Ripepi, who will become Vodafone Chief Network Officer from the
start of 2023, explained: “With plans to have 30% of our European
networks running on Open RAN by 2030, we aim to open the door to more
smaller companies to drive innovation, whilst strengthening the supply
Alberto Ripepi becomes Chief Network Officer of Vodafone from the
start of 2023
Open RAN, unlike traditional single-supplier mobile sites, separates
software from hardware. This means Vodafone can work with smaller
specialist suppliers to drive greater innovation and security to ensure
5G, and later 6G, reaches its full potential.
Accelerator Demo at Mobile World Congress (MWC)
At the start of 2022, Vodafone opened a dedicated facility in Málaga,
one of its new European innovation centres, to test accelerators.
Vodafone’s engineers are now putting these through their paces in time
to show how Open RAN can deliver features, security, and performance on
a par with traditional mobile radio networks at MWC, early next year.
For Vodafone, the implementation of accelerators will facilitate the
next step in the wider deployment of Open RAN and help the technology to
branch out from its rural roots into highly populated towns and cities.
Simply put, accelerators have the potential to take on much of the heavy
lifting calculations currently performed by standard central processing
units (CPU) and thereby speed up the processing of an array of complex
network tasks such as converting voice and data into radio waves. The
trick is to ensure today’s different flavours of RAN software can
seamlessly work across multiple vendor accelerators.
“Bringing in new vendors will ensure Open RAN sticks to its principles,”
Alberto added. “In the same way Linux adopted an open-source approach to
break the stranglehold of proprietary operating systems, democratisation
of mobile networks will be driven by start-ups and smaller vendors.”
Accelercomm, EdgeQ, Lime Microsystems and Saankhya Labs
Saankhya Labs has pioneered the development of programmable silicon
architectures fora number of Radio Technologies. It is now building the
next level of disaggregation RAN framework based on a standard
microservices architecture – like the ingredients of a dish,
microservices are parts of an application that can be applied separately
but work wonderfully well together.
In this scenario, new software can work across any hardware, allowing an
operator to choose the best combination for the job. In addition,
Saankhya Labs is also defining a chip architecture which natively
supports this framework to help drive down the total cost of ownership
of Open RAN systems.
Engineers at Saankhya Labs
The development of fully programmable, open hardware and the
standardisation of the Layer 1 interface – the physical infrastructure
that transports customer data as electrical signals – are key to drive
greater interoperability within the Open RAN ecosystem. A more modular
system will allow operators to respond quickly to customer demand for
more capacity and new services.
Parag Naik, Chief Executive Officer of Saankhya, added: “We share
Vodafone’s vision in building more open, sustainable and
customer-focused networks of the future. Our innovative solutions are
built on that model.”
Similarly, EdgeQ and Vodafone are working together to prepare Open RAN
for life in the fast lane. By compacting 4G, 5G, networking, and cloud
functionalities into a single-chip, EdgeQ has developed an Open RAN
solution with Massive MIMO, performance and power efficiency in mind.
Accelercomm is another company to keep an eye on. Born out of
Southampton University in the UK, it is now focused on improving the
performance and spectral efficiency of Open RAN based networks, while
ensuring interoperability of hardware and software.
Start-ups are crucial
is key to transforming networks from pure communications systems into
platforms for innovation. This is why we should absolutely encourage and
engage with smaller companies and start-ups as these are critical for
accelerating innovation and technical diversity,” concluded Alberto.
In addition to accelerators, Vodafone is working with innovative
companies in other areas of Open RAN, including Lime Microsystems. As
part of a UK government funded project to develop an open-source
framework and hardware, Lime will develop software-defined radio (SDR)
capable of supporting multi-technology and multiple frequencies. When
combined with its radio and baseband unit, it will create a blueprint
for use by other companies to develop off-the-shelf or bespoke radio
Vodafone will use its presence at MWC 23 to highlight the company’s
commitment to delivering Open RAN solutions through its Málaga silicon
R&D centre, and its work with new partners to further enhance the
services it delivers to customers. In much the same way Linux is the
operating system of choice for smaller companies developing Apps, Open
RAN will provide access to the relatively untapped world of mobile