Britain’s mobile networks are hoping to secure a leading role in an emerging radio technology that could be worth $21bn (£15.8bn) to power a move away from Huawei.
Open radio access network technology – known in the industry as OpenRan – is expected to be in use by 90pc of Europe’s mobile networks by next year, according to research from Deloitte.
The UK has taken a leading role in deploying the technology, which is designed to open up the hardware and software that can be used in mobile network infrastructure.
This should make it easier to use telecoms kit and software from smaller vendors and to move away from “high risk” vendors identified by Britain’s National Cyber Security Centre.
The technology sees mobile equipment work with multiple different suppliers, opening the network up from the three main equipment makers.
Paul Lee, head of technology research at Deloitte, said Vodafone’s UK business was among the main networks testing the new technology in Europe. “The UK entity is the one which has one of the highest commitment with thousands of sites,” he said. Vodafone is currently planning 2,600 sites across the South West and Wales.
He added: “For consumers, OpenRan has the potential to bring lower bills, better connectivity and accessibility to 5G networks.”
Research house Omdia said the global market for OpenRan would be $21bn by 2024. Because the technology opens up access to radio hardware, it could lead to new challengers entering the market, cutting costs and as a result bills.
The UK has made a substantial commitment to this new network technology as a way of diversifying its supply of 5G telecoms kit. There are plans for a new live project in Wales by next year with Japanese equipment provider NEC.
Japan is seen as the leader in OpenRan deployments, with technology company Rakuten launching a mobile network that already has 1 million users.
In the UK, an initial commitment of £250m has been made for a diversification fund, that will pay for efforts to move the Britain away from Huawei kit.
The Chinese mobile equipment vendor has been accused of posing a security risk by US authorities, something it has always denied. The UK has banned mobile networks from buying new Huawei kit by the end of the year and from installing it from September next year.