Vodafone, Intel to design OpenRAN chips

Business news |
By Peter Clarke

Vodafone has opened an R&D centre for the development of chips for OpenRAN communications networks in a move that will reduce reliance on equipment vendors.

The R&D centre is housed within Vodafone’s digital skills hub in Malaga, Spain, which became operational today – Monday January 31, 2022. Vodafone has said it plans to spend 225 million euros (about $250 million) over five years on the R&D center.

Some 50 hardware engineers will join 650 software engineers Vodafone plans to employ at the hub in Malaga, according to a Reuters report. The focus for the R&D Centre is on establishing a strong ecosystem for silicon design in Europe, Vodafone said.

Vodafone will work with about 20 vendors specializing in chip design and development. These include Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom, Arm and Lime Microsystems, according to the report.

Open Radio Access Networks, or OpenRAN, is a disaggregated approach to deploying mobile networks that uses open protocols and interfaces. This allows for increased flexibility over traditional RAN systems. Vodafone and Intel have been two proponents of the approach and have provided co-chairs for the OpenRAN working group.

Separating hardware and softtware

One of the core strengths of OpenRAN is that it separates the hardware and software at the mobile basestation. This allows a mix of equipment from different vendors as well as the use of in-house developed equipment. This brings the advantage of allowing extra capacity and services through the addition of software onto general-purpose hardware.

Vodafone and its partners will design OpenRAN processors based on the x86, Arm and RISC-V instruction sets, Reuters said quoting Santiago Tenorio, Vodafone’s director of network architecture.

Tenorio said Intel was up to three years ahead of rivals and had already played a key role in OpenRAN’s development.

Vodafone said it will use the jointly-developed silicon in its platforms for higher performance and efficiency as network demands increase.

“Silicon innovation will strengthen Europe’s position in the global market and speed up the roll out of new digital services,” said Francisco Martin, Head of OpenRAN at Vodafone, in a statement.

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