O2 / Telefónica has activated the first small cells with innovative Open RAN technology (ORAN) in Munich.
The operator recently made big news about the launch of its first Open RAN, small-cell-based 4G service in downtown Munich with partners NEC Corporation, Airspan Networks and Rakuten Symphony.
The service launch is part of a larger strategy that Telefónica announced in September 2021. Trials of multi-vendor-based Open RAN solutions with the Telefónica group’s operating companies will take place in four global markets (Spain, Germany, UK, and Brazil), with plans to scale to a total of at least 800 sites for commercial use starting in 2022. Telefónica has a goal of reaching 30-50% radio network growth based on Open RAN by 2025.
Rakuten Symphony’s Open vRAN software was already part of Telefónica’s wider Open RAN program for its macro cells. Now, separate from the macro cell network, it is also providing the key software and management system for operating the downtown Munich 4G small cells with the small cell hardware and software provided by Airspan, which includes its unique AirSpeed plug-and-play solution for easy deployment, including radio, integrated antenna, electronics and GPS all in one box.
The small cells provide an advantage in urban areas where installing new macro cells can be difficult to arrange. These cells have a lot of equipment and need space and power – which are both at a premium in urban areas. And, of course, there’s the mast – or tower – that skies high over homes and buildings and blocks views. These can be impossible to get approval for in an urban area. Small cells augment capacity within these constraints.
One of the advantages of a virtualized, disaggregated network is that the same Open vRAN software in use on macro cells can be easily scaled to operate on small cells. This means the same automation engine that allows zero-touch provisioning can be applied across the entire network. Using an Open vRAN design paradigm provides several additional benefits:
1. Very small form factor cell equipment that installs unobtrusively on lampposts, buildings and other public spaces.
2. Centralized – or even cloud based – RAN processing hardware that can be shared across sites rather than duplicated at every small cell.
3. An operator can build a seamless small cell / macro cell network.
And one more thing: open interfaces provide visibility into the network allowing access to performance and other data that Telefónica can use to better manage the network. This includes performance of and between component parts.
Telefónica has cracked the code of how an operator with a brownfield network can expand it to accommodate new services in urban areas. While everyday mobile device users will benefit from the network, the press release makes it clear that Telefónica has an eye toward a new and improved customer experience for 5G services.