Following the UK’s decision to withdraw Huawei from the 5G network in the country, Vodafone has come out to says that it might be possible to use a mixture of Ericsson and Nokia technology in its place, in combination with OpenRan infrastructure. The OpenRan technology is currently only being trialled but Vodafone believes they could scale up the use of the technology for use in rural areas by 2023, although they admitted it would likely take until 2025 to deploy the technology in more densely populated areas.
OpenRan is an experimental open source technology which would allow mobile carriers to pull their hardware and software from multiple suppliers instead of being locked into long term contracts with single suppliers for proprietary hardware and software.
The experimental technology would allow for more scale opportunities as software developers would have a reason to develop the specific technology that the UK need to deploy 5G at scale across the country. Right now however, Ericsson and Nokia are the only two suppliers who could manage deployment at scale. The technology however is very new and at this point only being trialled and at this stage has only been trialled with single technologies like 4G and 5G, it has not been trialled with 2G and 3G.
Right now the majority of the 4G network is provided by Huawei, so removing them is a significant shift for the UK. Vodafone and other companies will now need to remove Huawei from the network by 2027; this will be a long process requiring changes to more than a third of Vodafone’s 18,000 stations. Some mobile suppliers will need financial support during the process and the cost impacts are likely to be significant. Mobile suppliers are engaging with the government to discuss funding needs.