Orange and Vodafone have jointly announced plans to build an Open RAN network to spread 4G and 5G coverage in rural parts of Europe.

The duo will build an Open Radio Access Network (RAN) with RAN sharing in rural parts of Europe where both operators have mobile networks, with a pilot project set to take place in Bucharest, Romania, later this year.  

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It's the first time the two operators have agreed to share Open RAN networks in Europe.

The duo noted that the deployment in Bucharest will provide an 'initial real-life experience of this new operational model based on the integration of multi-vendor hardware and software, paving the way for wider scale deployments'.

Both operators are working to individually choose select strategic vendors for this initial build phase.

Orange and Vodafone both pointed to the advantages of Open RAN technology, noting that it provides operators with greater flexibility when adding new radio sites or when upgrading existing ones, and provides energy-saving benefits.

The announcement of the partnership will provide the European Commission with some optimism, with the EC aiming to have 5G in all populated areas by 2030.

"It is a major step towards agile and fully-automated networks, unleashing the potential of virtualization and AI to boost performance while driving both infrastructure and operational costs down," said Orange chief technology and innovation officer Michaël Trabbia.

"In particular, Open RAN is a great opportunity to take network sharing to a whole new dimension, with even higher operator differentiation thanks to the ability for each of the partners to tune its network more independently according to its promises towards its own customers."

Vodafone chief network officer Alberto Ripepi added: "Open RAN also means we can more quickly add new software features without necessarily replacing the hardware components, which is often the case today. This minimizes any disruption to service and ensures customers in rural areas receive the same upgrades as those in the cities."

Vodafone has pushed its Open RAN advancements significantly recently, with the operator showcasing its 5G network-in-a-box prototype last week.

The Open RAN-compliant device is a similar size to the standard home WiFi router and comprises a software-defined radio (SDR) chipset developed by Lime Microsystems, while it is built on a Raspberry Pi personal computer.

Vodafone also announced plans to install the technology on 16 mobile masts in UK towns Exmouth and Torquay last year.

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