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South Korea nudges UK government on behalf of Samsung Networks

Samsung’s effort to challenge Ericsson and Nokia in Europe might get a helping hand from the UK government.

South Korea’s ICT Ministry (MCIT) revealed in a statement (in Korean) on Tuesday that Lee Tai-hee, the MCIT’s deputy minister for planning and coordination, met with digital economy minister Chris Philp during Monday’s Future Tech Forum at London’s Science Museum.

During the meeting, Lee referred to the UK’s policy of diversifying its telco equipment supply chain, and “emphasised the fact that Samsung Electronics was selected as a 5G equipment supplier for Vodafone, a British telecommunications company, in June, and requested the British government’s cooperation to further expand the introduction of Korea’s 5G equipment to the United Kingdom.”

The MCIT said both sides have “agreed to continue the dialogue in this regard.” The UK and South Korea have also agreed to promote joint research into AI, and expand exchanges between researchers and students through education and training programmes.

Telecoms.com asked the department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for its side of the story, but has yet to hear back.

It was big news when Vodafone chose Samsung as one of the main vendors for its European OpenRAN deployment. Under the deal, Samsung will supply radio units, massive MIMO solutions, and will be Voda’s reference RAN software provider. However, it is worth keeping in mind that OpenRAN technology is still some way off large-scale deployment, and it is currently pitched more as a means of economically extending coverage to hard-to-reach areas.

Big RAN contracts covering multiple major conurbations is still the bread and butter for vendors. This is where Samsung wants to play, and it wants to play outside Asia. It scored a significant win in that regard last September, when it won a $6.6 billion deal to supply network equipment to Verizon.

Ericsson and Nokia used to compete with Huawei for business in Europe, but with Huawei rendered ineligible for 5G contracts in many markets on national security grounds, governments have been looking for ways to maintain competition in the supply chain.

OpenRAN is one way of doing that, because of its promise to foster a diverse ecosystem of white box kit makers and smaller software vendors. Another way is to find other telco vendors to fill the void, and here’s where Samsung – with its end-to-end 5G portfolio – senses an opportunity.

The UK is pursuing both of these avenues, as well as supporting existing vendors so they can keep operators supplied with all the latest gear. With this in mind, it is hardly surprising to hear that South Korea took the chance to promote Samsung’s interests to the UK government this week.


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