Virgin Media O2, NEC, Rakuten Symphony drive multi-supplier Open RAN in UK


Virgin Media O2, NEC Corporation and Rakuten Symphony have announced that their joint multi-supplier Open RAN deployment is entering the field phase, commencing with the activation of the first live sites in Virgin Media O2’s commercial network.

The multi-supplier Open RAN system deployment on macro-sites in the UK is said to be 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 is designed to highlight 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 in 2021, the field deployment is now operational to handle commercial traffic. NEC’s system integration capabilities and open end-to-end offering, 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 supplier diversity and innovation.

The opening of the live Open RAN macro-sites in Virgin Media O2’s network was made possible after 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 follows NEC’s design quality assurance process so that multi-supplier services can be efficiently integrated, tested and validated before any field deployment.

The Virgin Media O2 Open RAN deployment is also constructed to align 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.

“The successful activation of Virgin Media O2’s first UK macro-sites demonstrates the potential of the multi-vendor Open RAN model,” said Virgin Media O2 chief technology officer Jeanie York.

“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.”

NEC’s senior vice-president, Mayuko Tatewaki, said: “NEC is true to its mission to deliver the most open Open RAN solutions to the telecoms and mobile industries.

“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.”

Rakuten Symphony chief business officer Rabih Dabboussi said: “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.

“Rakuten Symphony’s Open RAN software, combined with NEC’s world-class radios and system integration capabilities, validates the transformative potential that Open RAN technology brings to the industry.”

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