News | 14 Sep 2023

Dorset gets multi-million pound funding boost for OpenRAN plan

A consortium, which includes Dorset Council and Vodafone, will use Government funding to research ways OpenRAN can help bolster mobile connectivity in rural areas of the UK.

A consortium of partners, including Vodafone, has been awarded funding by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) to support the Dorset Open Network Ecosystem (DONE) project.

The Dorset Open Network Ecosystem (DONE) project is a £7 million initiative to explore how OpenRAN can help improve mobile connectivity in rural areas. Led by Dorset Council, the project will run until 2025.

The consortium will lean on Vodafone’s extensive experience in OpenRAN, as well as bringing in expertise from other partners including Strathclyde University, Neutral Networks, Telint, Kimcell, ARM, Keysight, Wildanet and Illuminate.

Andrea Dona, Chief Network Officer, Vodafone UK, said: “OpenRAN is already a key component of the Vodafone network strategy, and we are always open to exploring new ideas with partners.

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“The technology industry is evolving rapidly, and we as the telecoms sector have to keep pace to realise the economic and societal benefits. This means embracing transformative ideas that fundamentally evolve how we function. OpenRAN is a truly exciting opportunity that opens up huge potential for innovation.”

OpenRAN is a new way of building mobile networks. Instead of building an entire site with a single partner, OpenRAN introduces interoperability allowing telecoms companies to select from a wider range of suppliers. This allows companies to work with specialist suppliers and make more forensic improvements to different areas.

Vodafone is a global leader in the OpenRAN ecosystem and has introduced the technology in several different locations throughout the UK. In 2021, Vodafone switched on the first 5G OpenRAN mast in the UK, before running the first urban OpenRAN trial in 2022. Following that successful trial, Vodafone announced in August 2023 that it had officially begun the process of replacing traditional RAN technology with OpenRAN on 2,500 sites in the south west of England and in Wales.

Vodafone begins volume deployment of OpenRAN for 2,500 sites across Wales and south west England

OpenRAN to provide much needed diversity to the telecommunications supply chain to act as a catalyst for innovation and to offer new opportunities for specialist providers across the technology ecosystem.

The DONE project aims to explore how open and interoperable networks can increase diversity in the telecoms supply chain. Increased competition can lead to lower installation costs, which in turn could mean faster deployment in hard-to-reach places. A greater number of suppliers can also have a catalyst effect on innovation, helping to improve the energy efficiency of networks and introduce new features to improve performance.

As part of the project, the consortium will also create an open, digital environment to support innovators seeking to develop, prototype and test their own ideas against a replica of a network. This will help reduce barriers to telecoms R&D in the UK and improve the UK’s skills base in telecoms, with a specific regional niche in national security, law enforcement and defence.

Councillor Jill Haynes, portfolio holder for Corporate Development and Transformation at Dorset Council, said: “I am delighted that we have been successful in securing £3.6 million from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology on their Open Networks Ecosystem programme. Dorset Council will be leading a consortium of industry partners, many of which have worked with us on high profile Government projects previously, such as the multi-award winning 5G RuralDorset.

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Both opportunities and challenges presented themselves as Dorset Council and its partners, including Vodafone, tried out new ways of using 5G in the county.

“Research and technology projects like this are crucial for driving innovation in very rural locations such as those that make up the beautiful county of Dorset and will ensure that we don’t get left behind. This work will help pave the way for cheaper, faster and more environmentally friendly connectivity in hard-to-reach areas and will have a positive effect far beyond the borders of Dorset.”

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