LightTrends Newsletter

The Open RAN Empire of the Rising Sun

June 2021

In our April 30, 2021, Japan Wireless Infrastructure FY20 Report: “Welcome to the world’s first open vRAN nation!” we called this emerging open RAN empire the world’s first open RAN/vRAN nation. It started with open RAN and swiftly shifted to open vRAN. What a difference a year makes! One year ago, those skeptical about the possibility that the swelling open RAN momentum, triggered by the U.S.-led Huawei ‘rip and replace’ initiative, would provide Fujitsu and NEC a splendid opportunity to gain market share abroad far outnumbered the believers. As a matter of fact, I was one of the handful of analysts foreseeing a new wave of international business developments for Fujitsu and NEC (see June 27, 2020, AFP “Huawei Controversy Opens Field For 5G Challengers” in Barrons and the Japan Times for example).

At that time, I was just envisioning how the 2 Japanese vendors could leverage some of their existing international assets—Netcracker, an NEC company and global cloud BSS leader deployed in many Tier 1 networks, for example—to jump in the 5G bandwagon and in the absence of Huawei and ZTE, compete with Ericsson and Nokia in Europe. But there was something much bigger in the process that went off the radar: Japan’s fast developing open RAN ecosystem, starting with non-virtual RAN functions.

However, this would have never happened without 1) Japan’s MIC decision in 2018 to add a fourth player and 2) the strong cooperation between Japan and the U.S. on 5G open RAN and 6G. As a result, the whole Japanese ecosystem ranging from service providers to network equipment and component vendors is on the open RAN and open vRAN board and paving the way for a strong international expansion. Meanwhile, in the U.S., the new entrant DISH is the only service provider on board so far and unfortunately this is not enough to strengthen the developing domestic ecosystem, isn’t it ironic? At least, the heavy presence of U.S. suppliers in Rakuten Mobile’s network and NTT DOCOMO’s 5G open vRAN ecosystem offers solid consolation.

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