Vodafone and i2CAT to jointly develop automated Open RAN management system for greater innovation and security


Latest in a series of joint research projects with academia and research institutions at Vodafone’s expanding Innovation Centre in Málaga, Spain.

Vodafone and the i2CAT Foundation have recently announced that they will use the improved automation offered by Open Radio Access Networks (RAN) to jointly build a highly responsive multi-vendor management system to fix faults and respond to cyber threats faster and more cheaply.

Unlike closed single-supplier networks, Open RAN promotes enhanced innovation by introducing new features and services by enabling the use of software and hardware from multiple vendors. This approach also paves the way for greater use of automated and virtualisation techniques, replacing manual tasks associated with traditional networks.

Combining the collective strengths of i2CAT’s pioneering research and development in new digital technologies with Vodafone’s advanced engineering expertise at its Innovation Centre in Málaga, the two organisations will use machine learning techniques to effectively manage and analyse multi-vendor Open RAN network logs. These logs provide vital information, such as successful login or failed access attempts, that can be used to enhance security and detect threats.

Ultimately, the system will provide Vodafone with a unified multi-vendor dashboard to respond to and control Open RAN events over a wide geographical area. This will support the company’s aim of having 30% of its masts across Europe using Open RAN technology by 2030. The management system’s benefits include reducing operational costs by automating the processing and analysis of multi-vendor logs; strengthening security by being able to quickly detect and mitigate threats across different suppliers; and simplifying compliance with appropriate regulations and industry standards.

Francisco Martin, Head of Open RAN at Vodafone, said: “Vodafone’s partnership with i2CAT supports our aim to provide ultra-secure and reliable software-driven networks that can be upgraded or patched in an instant. It will enable us to automate more manual tasks associated with traditional networks to respond even faster to fluctuations in demand, manage energy consumption more effectively, launch new features quicker and keep ahead of the ever-changing threat landscape.”

Ana Moliner, i2CAT’s Director of Innovation Business Development for the Private Sector, added: “This partnership combines i2CAT’s R&D expertise with Vodafone’s knowledge of new infrastructure deployment and its global reach, accelerating the creation and adoption of new solutions and products. Together, we can explore new frontiers in digital connectivity, create new use cases in emerging sectors and contribute to society’s advancement towards a more connected and innovative future.”

Through its participation in R&D projects, i2CAT has gained a wide experience in Open RAN, contributing to the design of multi-vendor service management and orchestration (SMO) platforms with native support for Machine Learning (ML) model management, as well as to the development of xApps and rApps to improve quality of service for Extended Reality (XR) applications, and to reduce network level energy consumption. Cybersecurity is another of the centre’s areas of knowledge, and it has sound experience in developing AI-enhanced attack detection techniques to increase cybersecurity situation awareness and efficiently mitigate threats. i2CAT has also designed a user and entity behaviour analytics-based AI engine that allows the automatic ingestion of heterogeneous logs of entities and users to define behavioural patterns in the network and calculate exposure to specific threats.

The HOLMES project

The initial focus for Vodafone and i2CAT is on the design of a Security Information and Event Management system (SIEM) – a system that flags potential security threats like unauthorised access, denial-of-service attacks, or man-in-the-middle interceptions. As a leading provider of critical national infrastructure and connecting many millions of customers every day, Vodafone is committed to working closely with leading academic and research institutions to keep customers safe online. In addition to i2CAT, Vodafone has worked with the University of Oxford to guard against risks arising from developing Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies.

Vodafone and i2CAT will test the ability to differentiate the diverse types of logs received, classify them, and manage them according to the specific threat. The intention is then to integrate the SIEM with the main Open RAN components, such as the RAN Intelligence Controller (RIC), which controls and optimises the radio access network functions. The organisations will also run Proof of Concept (PoC) tests that include log management of automated rApps (used for applications such as steering traffic or conserving energy).

The results of this collaborative project, named Holistic ORAN Logging & Metrics Security Shield (HOLMES), will be shared with the O-RAN Alliance, an industry body which defines specifications and standards. This will enable different vendors to contribute and adopt new standardised approaches to log formats.