A new network contender

1 min read

Earlier this month the British telecoms group Vodafone unveiled its strategic O-RAN vendors, a list that included the likes of Dell, NEC, Samsung Electronics, Wind River, Capgemini Engineering and Keysight Technologies.

According to Vodafone its initial focus will be on 2,500 sites in the UK, in what will be one of the largest O-RAN deployments in the world, as it looks to extend 4G and 5G coverage across the UK.

The programme will use Dell’s EMC PowerEdge servers, Wind River Studio to provide a distributed cloud-native platform hosting the O-RAN applications while Keysight will supply the test solutions.

But it was the news that Vodafone had chosen Samsung Electronics to supply its 5G network equipment that was probably the most important aspect of the announcement.

Last year the UK announced that it would be requiring Huawei to remove all equipment from its 5G network by the end of 2027, citing national security risks, which raised questions over the roll-out and cost of delivering 5G.

The network equipment market has traditionally been dominated by Nokia, Ericsson and Huawei, and ever since the mobile operators were told they were going to have to phase out Huawei's equipment they've been faced by what appeared to be an even more limited choice for their 5G equipment.

Another consequence of banning Huawei was that a growing number of telecom operators started looking at deploying O-RAN, a wireless network architecture which allows mobile operators to essentially ‘mix and match’ equipment from various suppliers providing much greater flexibility.

Johan Wibergh, Vodafone's chief technology officer, said that by using O-RAN the company would be able to release new features simultaneously across multiple sites, add capacity more quickly and resolve outages "instantly".

That trend seems to be paying off for Samsung which is gaining market share as European mobile operators like Telefonica and Orange hold talks with the firm.

Samsung has a very strong 5G RAN portfolio that covers mobile broadband, fixed wireless access and private 5G networks and, as a consequence, is now being seen as a ‘real’ contender in this fast growing and extremely important market.

Prior to Vodafone’s decision Samsung had already won a $6 billion deal with Verizon in the US, and analysts are now calling the announcement by Vodafone a "breakthrough" for Samsung.

The Vodafone announcement is being described as a key moment for 5G in the UK but it should also be seen as one for Samsung, which until recently had been considered out of the game and an also-ran against Nokia and Ericsson.

Having successfully broken up this duopoly it would appear that plenty of other deals are likely to follow.