NTT Docomo turns to Samsung for help with OpenRAN

Japanese operator NTT Docomo is determined not to let rival Rakuten get too much of a head start with OpenRAN, so has drafted in Samsung to help.

While this move is of no great immediate consequence, it is symbolically significant in many ways. As we saw today, fellow Japanese MNO Rakuten has not only hit the ground running when it comes to OpenRAN, it’s also licensing its technology to others. That opportunity was never likely to apply to its direct domestic competitors, so they have to look elsewhere if they need third-party help.

While Nokia is making all the right noises regarding OpenRAN support right now, it seems unlikely that the big RAN vendors feel too enthusiastic about OpenRAN, what with is undermining their core business model and all that. Right behind the big three of Huawei Ericsson and Nokia is Samsung, which has been pulling out all the stops to take them on in 5G. Deals like this indicate Samsung also sees OpenRAN as an opportunity to take market share from them.

“The agreement between NTT Docomo and Samsung is significant,” Stefan Pongratz, VP at Dell’Oro, is quoted as saying in the Samsung press release. “NTT Docomo has a history of being at the forefront with new and innovative technologies and this announcement cements Samsung’s position as a major 5G RAN supplier.”

“As a leading mobile operator, our goal is to provide our customers the best possible services for creating innovative, fun and exciting experiences and finding solutions to social issues,” said Sadayuki Abeta, General Manager of the RAN Development Department at NTT Docomo. “We are excited to collaborate with Samsung for the next phase of 5G Open RAN and accelerate the expansion of our ‘Lightning Speed 5G’ coverage in the nation.”

“We are pleased to be part of Docomo’s 5G networks and look forward to continued collaboration in advancing 5G innovation for their customers,” said Satoshi Iwao, Head of the Network Division at Samsung Electronics Japan. “Our goal is to leverage Samsung’s technical leadership to bring the best network solutions to mobile operators around the world, so they can deliver the next generation of transformative 5G services and electrifying user experiences.”

The release is pretty vague about what exactly Samsung will bring to the table in this deal. There’s talk of ‘innovative 5G technology, including O-RAN-compliant solutions,’ but the NTT quote seems to indicate OpenRAN is the main event. Samsung presumably has less invested in trying to sell complete proprietary RAN solutions and could become a very significant player in OpenRAN.

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