Japan's NTT DoCoMo has agreed to form a joint venture with NEC that will take on Rakuten Symphony in the global Open RAN market.

Nick Wood

February 27, 2024

3 Min Read

The telco already offers a full suite of Open RAN services from NTT and its partners via its OREX unit. The new JV will leverage OREX and combine it with NEC's system integration expertise, which has been accumulated via its experience of deploying mobile infrastructure all over the world.

Called OREX SAI, it will sell Open RAN equipment and software, provide deployment, maintenance and operation services, and offer service management and orchestration (SMO), and virtualised RAN (vRAN) planning services.

Its official launch is slated for the beginning of April. DoCoMo's EVP in charge of its networks division, Hiroshi Kobayashi, has been appointed CEO.

"We are excited to bring our true Open RAN solutions to telecom operators worldwide through the joint venture OREX SAI, which combines DoCoMo's Open RAN implementation expertise, OREX's innovative solutions and NEC's global system-integration capabilities," he said. "We are committed to driving innovation and connectivity for all, making global telecommunications open, seamless and inclusive."

Announced during this week's Mobile World Congress (MWC), the establishment of OREX SAI might just give rival Japanese Open RAN provider Rakuten Symphony something to think about.

Symphony has been at the forefront of offering a full suite of Open RAN solutions to global operators, but it hasn't had the easiest time of it. It got off to a flying start by winning the 1&1 Open RAN deal in Germany, but it hasn't quite been able to maintain the tempo.

The abrupt departure last August of CEO Tareq Amin didn't do Symphony's public image any favours either, and now it has to contend with the combined clout of incumbent DoCoMo and NEC.

However, Symphony does have a head start, and at MWC it strengthened its partnership with Ukraine's Kyivstar.

Veon-owned Kyivstar plans to spend $600 million to reconstruct its mobile networks, which have been damaged extensively by Russia's invasion.

After establishing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Symphony last August, Kyivstar has now signed a letter of intent (LoI) paving the way for the deployment of Symphony's solutions, beginning some time this year.

"We are now in the implementation phase of our $600 million investment commitment for the reconstruction of Ukraine," said Veon CEO Kaan Terzioglu. "I share the excitement of our Kyivstar team, under the leadership of Kyivstar CEO Oleksandr Komarov, in working with Rakuten to rebuild the country's infrastructure with Open RAN as a part of this commitment."

Meanwhile, on its home turf, Rakuten Mobile announced it has tapped up Nokia to deploy Open RAN-compatible radios for its upcoming 700-MHz 4G network. Known as the platinum band, Rakuten was allocated the spectrum last October and is keen to start using it.

As such, it will deploy 700-MHz kit alongside its existing 1.7-GHz 5G infrastructure, using antennas that can support both frequencies.

In addition, Rakuten has also agreed to add Nokia's radios to Symphony's portfolio, making them available to the global Open RAN market.

With two Japanese telcos now vying for the still-nascent Open RAN market, it will be interesting to see how the competition develops.

About the Author(s)

Nick Wood

Nick is a freelancer who has covered the global telecoms industry for more than 15 years. Areas of expertise include operator strategies; M&As; and emerging technologies, among others. As a freelancer, Nick has contributed news and features for many well-known industry publications. Before that, he wrote daily news and regular features as deputy editor of Total Telecom. He has a first-class honours degree in journalism from the University of Westminster.

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