Ericsson, Virgin Media O2 extend partnership to boost 5G in the UK

Ericsson said the new deal will improve 5G coverage in cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast

Ericsson and Virgin Media O2 announced they will boost 4G and 5G coverage and capacity to major cities and towns across the U.K. as part of a renewed network partnership agreement.

The two companies have agreed on a new contract to deploy the latest products and solutions from the Ericsson Radio System portfolio in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Additional service upgrades and small cell solutions are included as part of the network modernization.

Ericsson said that Virgin Media O2 customers in major U.K. cities including Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast will benefit from enhanced mobile capacity, improved coverage and faster speeds.

As part of the deal, Ericsson will deploy its quad-technology baseband, multi-band and 5G massive MIMO radio AIR 3258 across the Virgin Media O2 network. The deployment of these radios will enable a reduction of up to 30% in energy use, the Swedish vendor said.

Jeanie York, CTO at Virgin Media O2, said: “This multi-million pound investment in our network will mean our customers can benefit from more reliable and faster services at the same time as reducing overall carbon emissions. Building on our long-standing relationship with Ericsson allows us to deliver improvements quickly and efficiently, helping us move rapidly towards the future-proof networks our customers expect.”

“This new agreement is another important milestone on our journey together with Virgin Media O2 to bring the very best in next generation connectivity to key locations across the U.K.,” said Katherine Ainley, CEO at Ericsson U.K. and Ireland.

“As end-to-end partner on both Radio and Core we are building a network of the future that will not only offer superior connectivity for Virgin Media O2 customers but also deliver an innovation platform that can help to transform new industries and pave the way to a more connected digital society,” Ainley added.

Virgin Media O2’s 5G network reached 1,600 towns and cities across the country as of the end of last year. In its latest earnings release, the telco said it was on track to deliver 5G services to 50% of the U.K. population during 2023.

Virgin Media O2 had launched services in June 2021 as a joint venture between Liberty Global and Telefónica in the U.K.

Liberty Global and Telefonica had reached an agreement to merge their U.K. operations in a 50-50 joint venture in May of 2020. That same month, the U.K.’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) decided to allow the proposed merger between mobile operator O2 and Virgin Media.

In August 2022, Virgin Media O2, NEC and Rakuten Symphony had announced that their joint multi-vendor Open RAN deployment was entering the field phase, starting with the activation of the first live sites in Virgin Media O2’s commercial network.

The field deployment, which is now operational to handle commercial traffic, follows an O-RAN lab trial on Virgin Media O2’s network with NEC, Rakuten Symphony and other ecosystem partners in 2021.

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