Japan and Korea have led the way in mobile network rollout speed and market adoption since the age of 3G. Increasingly however, they have been falling behind in R&D and global reach of their technology suppliers. With 5G and Open RAN, they seem to try to address this gap, in a coherent push from national governments, vendors and national operators.

India is also increasingly emerging as an important as an R&D hub for Open RAN baseband software.

Key players in the broader region are Samsung, NEC, Fujitsu, NTT, Rakuten and Mavenir.

Rakuten - Japan

Rakuten Mobile network is arguably the earliest example of a nationwide commercial cloud native Open RAN network and has served as an important reference case study for the industry and proving ground for many vendors.

Rakuten was an early adopter and a poster child of open RAN with a full 4G/5G network in Japan; operating since October 2019 at national scale, delivering several thousands of sites and a rapid network growth, going from 23% 4G population coverage at launch in 2020 to reach 96% 4G population coverage in 2022. It is a greenfield cloud-native Open RAN network with no network legacy to weigh it down.

Rakuten built its own full ecosystem of networks and OSS by integrating 3rd party products into a coherent platform, which they have branded the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) and spinning off Rakuten Symphony as a new company to leverage and export this platform in the global marketplace. Rakuten Symphony has signed up 15 MNOs partnerships.

Rakuten has already acquired two of its suppliers and RCP partners: Open RAN radio vendor Altiostar and cloud tech start-up

Showing its interest in the European market, Rakuten Symphony has established European presence and investments in the UK, France and Germany. Rakuten Symphony UK Ltd, is based in London and led by Nastasi Karaiskos. The UK company is focused on development and testing 4G and 5G Open RAN software and hardware for Rakuten Symphony, leveraging and expanding Altiostar’s R&D centre and Open RAN engineering lab in the country. The company states that its expansion of R&D in the UK will put Rakuten Symphony in an ideal position to support the UK government in meeting its ambition for 35% of mobile network traffic in the UK to be carried over open and interoperable RAN architectures by 2030.

NTT docomo OREC

NTT DOCOMO has also announced its own 5G Open RAN ecosystem, branded ‘OREC’, suggesting that it seeks to leverage the substantial virtualisation expertise of NTT Data and its Open RAN expertise of working with NEC and Fujitsu, to follow a similar global market dissemination strategy. DOCOMO has made an Open RAN lab accessible to operators around world, aiming to work with them to deploy, provision and operate 5G Open RAN networks. NTT’s OREC ecosystem comprises solutions from 13 vendors, including Japanese vendors NEC, Fujitsu and NTT DATA Corporation and many more from North American ones – Dell, Hewlett Packard, Intel, Mavenir, NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Red Hat, VMware, Wind River, AMD-Xilinx.

The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue Context

From the Indo-Pacific region, Japan, India and Australia collaborate in areas of public network security with the USA – this is within the greater context of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (or Quad). A number of Open RAN initiatives have been kicked off following the Track 1.5 dialogue on Open RAN announced at the September 2021 Quad Leaders Summit, where the governments of Australia, India, Japan and the USA emphasized the importance of secure and trusted network infrastructure, and the need for greater vendor diversity across the telecoms ecosystem. Some of these initiatives are supported by the Open RAN Policy Coalition.


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