Monday, January 13, 2020

Vodafone supports 5G 0-RAN as its restructures tower business

by Benedict Chua

Vodafone confirmed further activation of its 5G network in the UK, including in Belfast, Edinburgh and Leeds, plus the towns of Cheadle, Rochdale and Stockport in and around Greater Manchester.

Vodafone is also now offering  5G roaming in five locations in the Republic of Ireland. 5G roaming already covers Germany, Italy, Spain and the UK as part of Vodafone’s 5G roll-out.

Vodafone is the first UK company to introduce 5G multi-operator radio access network (MORAN) technology. This enables providers to share the same mobile base station, helping to reduce energy usage and the number of masts needed.

Vodafone UK Chief Executive Officer Nick Jeffery said: “We have started the new year as we mean to go on. We now offer 5G in double the number of places than our nearest rival and we have significantly boosted the capacity of our network. It is ready for the arrival in 2020 of some great new 5G handsets and the next big software release bringing ultra-low latency. Together, these will push 5G to the next level.”

In October 2019, Vodafone initiated trials of OpenRAN in the UK, the DRC and Mozambique. The trial sites across the three countries will provide 2G, 3G and 4G services, with 5G possible over OpenRAN in the future. Vodafone has already undertaken lab trials of OpenRAN with Vodacom South Africa, and in Turkey has deployed the technology to deliver 2G and 4G services to customers in both urban and rural parts of the country.

Vodafone is working with a number of new vendors supplying OpenRAN technology including US companies, Parallel Wireless and Mavenir, and UK-based Lime Microsystems for Open CrowdCell. Vodafone has also become a founding member of the newly annouced 5G Future Forum, which is also backed by America Movil, KT, Rogers, Telstra and Verizon. The mission of this forum is to develop uniform interoperability specifications to improve speed to market for developers and multinational enterprises working on 5G-enabled solutions.

Also of note, Vodafone is currently working to restructure most of its European tower infrastructure into a new, fully independent "TowerCo" company. The goal is for TowerCo to be operational by May 2020. The newly independent company will comprise 61,700 towers in 10 markets with potential proportionate EBITDA of around EUR 900 million. Vodafone said it believes that there is significant scope to generate operational efficiencies and increase tenancy ratios across the portfolio by creating an independent company. Based on market benchmarks for anchor tenant lease rates, existing third party revenues and the attributable cost base, TowerCo could generate proportionate annual revenue and EBITDA of around €1,700 million and €900 million, respectively. TowerCo’s attributable annual maintenance and expansion capex could be up to €200 million.

A future IPO for the new organization is a possibility.

Vodafone has recently announced active and passive network sharing agreements in Italy, Spain and the UK.

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