BT, Nokia trial Open RAN RIC in Hull, UK

Optimizing Open RAN RIC for EE network performance

British Telecom (BT) and Nokia on Wednesday announced a new Open RAN trial in the city of Hull. BT will install Nokia’s RAN Intelligent Controller (RIC) across a number of sites. The goal of the project: to optimize and scale Open RAN network performance under controlled real world conditions.

BT said the RIC trial is part of an ongoing process to shepherd Open RAN into a mature and scalable option for network optimization. Chris Simcoe, BT’s Director of Network Applications Architecture, underscored the importance of open and interoperable architecture in the RIC in an interview with RCR Wireless News.

“The RIC needs to be open and interoperable, so we can really drive the benefits we think we’ll get out of it from the customer perspective. Our focus is on how to get the best customer experience to our subscribers,” Simcoe said.

BT is using the opportunity to shake down Open RAN technology under real-world conditions, albeit on a limited scale. Mike Witts, BT’s Head of Technology communications, said it’s about building capability.

“We see Open RAN as potentially a very exciting part of the toolkit going forward for building radio access networks. We want to make sure it gets to a level of maturity where we can deploy it in a more scalable way. This is an early step to doing that, on an active bit of network,” said Witts.

BT also announced plans to open an Open RAN Innovation Centre at BT’s Adastral Park research facility, located in Martlesham Heath, England. The new center will gather large and small Open RAN vendors alike, to develop and prove their equipment.

BT and Nokia’s Open RAN plans

BT’s efforts to test Open RAN reflect a national prioritization on RAN disaggregation in the United Kingdom. The U.K. Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) in December announced a goal of 35% of the U.K.’s mobile network traffic carried over O-RAN by 2030. The government has enlisted the cooperation of major British telcos including BT subsidiary EE, Vodafone, Virgin Media O2 and Three. The plan stipulates £36 million ($47.5 million) in funding for fifteen projects. That includes Open RAN technology trials across Scotland, Wales and England. Also, a £15 million cash injection for a testing facility for next-generation telecoms tech.

Nokia and Korean telco SK Telecom scored a recently scored a virtual RAN (vRAN) win. The two companies announced a successful demonstration of a 5G Access Network (vRAN) in Korea. The demo included virtualizing the baseband, separating hardware and software, and operating each independently.

Open RAN efforts notwithstanding, Nokia and BT are working together on BT’s 5G RAN deployment. BT picked Nokia as its 5G RAN vendor in September 2020. Nokia reportedly won 63% of the contract, or about 11,600 sites throughout the U.K. That was when Nokia and BT first announced plans to develop Open RAN technology.

Under the terms of the deal, Nokia supplies its AirScale Single RAN (S-RAN) portfolio for both indoor and outdoor coverage. That includes 5G RAN, AirScale base stations and Nokia AirScale radio access products. Nokia will also optimize BT’s 2G and 4G networks as part of the deal.

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