Virgin Media O2 activates live Open RAN sites in Northamptonshire

Virgin Media O2 has activated its first Open RAN mobile sites in Northamptonshire

Virgin Media O2 have activated live Open RAN sites in Virgin Media O2’s network, as part of multi-vendor Open RAN deployment.

Virgin Media O2, NEC and Rakuten Symphony have launched a joint multi-vendor Open RAN deployment now entering the field phase, commencing with the activation of the first live sites in Virgin Media O2’s commercial network.

This successful multi-vendor Open RAN system deployment on macro-sites in the UK is notable for being in a brownfield network and baselined on the existing Telco Cloud supply chain to maximise future synergies.

Based in the Northamptonshire region, the system highlights the mobile operator, NEC and Rakuten Symphony’s commitment to driving Open RAN innovation in the mobile industry.

Following a successful Open RAN lab trial on Virgin Media O2’s network with NEC, Rakuten Symphony and ecosystem partners last year, the field deployment is now operational to handle commercial traffic.

NEC’s system integration capabilities and fully open end-to-end solution, combined with Rakuten Symphony’s Open RAN software, edge cloud, and radio management and operations system, ensured the activation of the UK macro-sites while delivering vendor diversity and innovation.

These first live Open RAN macro-sites in Virgin Media O2’s network are possible after extensive testing at NEC and Rakuten Symphony’s labs in India and NEC’s Global Open RAN Centre of Excellence lab in Ruislip, London.

The facility, equipped with state-of-the-art testing equipment, follows NEC’s design quality assurance process so that multi-vendor solutions can be efficiently integrated, tested, and validated before any field deployment.

The Virgin Media O2 Open RAN deployment aligns with the UK government’s efforts to diversify future telecom supply chains, recognising Open RAN’s importance in safeguarding security, resilience, innovation, and competition in critical national infrastructure.

Jeanie York, Chief Technology Officer at Virgin Media O2, said,

“The successful activation of Virgin Media O2’s first UK macro-sites demonstrates the potential of the multi-vendor Open RAN model. 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.”

Open RAN is a vendor-neutral approach to radio networks with standardised designs that allow a variety of firms to supply hardware and software rather than the highly integrated cell site products traditionally offered by major manufacturers.

The hope is that OpenRAN can increase innovation, reduce costs, and reduce dependency on the ‘big three’ of Ericsson, Huawei, and Nokia.

NEC is a major player in the RAN market in its native Japan but hopes to adapt the technology it has built for its Japanese customers for a wider audience.

The appetite for Open RAN and the spirit of openness within the industry, coupled with the desire from governments to increase the pool of potential suppliers, has increased its chances of success.

“NEC is true to its mission to deliver the most open Open RAN solutions to the telecoms and mobile industries,” said Mayuko Tatewaki, Senior Vice President at NEC.

“We have great synergy with Virgin Media O2 in this respect and the company is a true leader in progressing Open RAN in the UK. The activation of the UK macro-sites, together in partnership with Rakuten Symphony and an ecosystem of industry leaders, showcases the potential of a fully open network.

We’re excited to be driving this innovative project that brings us a step closer to realising our multi-vendor Open RAN vision.”

Based on proven modern infrastructure practices, Rakuten Symphony’s open interface platforms make it possible to launch and operate advanced mobile services in a fraction of the time and cost of conventional approaches, with no compromise to network quality or security.

Rakuten Symphony has headquarters in Japan and local presence in the United States, Singapore, India, Europe and the Middle East Africa region.

“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 by the mobile operator,” said Rabih Dabboussi, Chief Business Officer of Rakuten Symphony.

“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.”