NEC in contention to supply 5G radio units and 5G cloud native core network in UK
Following last Friday’s announcement that NEC and Analog Devices (ADI) have cooperated to design a 5G Network Massive MIMO Antenna Radio Unit for Rakuten Mobile, the Japanese IT icon is in contention to supply 5G base stations in the UK.
The UK has said it will no longer allow the use of Huawei equipment in its 5G networks due to unresolved security concerns, and required network providers to remove already-incorporated equipment by 2027. That’s largely due to the pressure the U.S. administration has put on allies to ban Huawei from their telecom networks based on the assertion that Huawei’s equipment could be used for cyberespionage, an allegation that the company denies.
With Huawei being banned from the UK’s 5G networks, Ericsson and Nokia, are the obvious choice to replace the world’s #1 telecom equipment company, other contenders are beginning to emerge. Those include South Korea’s Samsung as well as Japan’s Fujitsu and NEC. The latter probably has an edge due to their work with Rakuten Mobile on both 5G radio units and a cloud native 5G core network.
NEC’s 5G equipment utilizes highly accurate digital beamforming for efficient high-capacity transmission. The system also features seamless installation, achieved through circuit integration.
“Virtualization is a dependable and cost-efficient approach, and the world’s leading telecom providers are pursuing it as the next evolution of communications. ADI’s RF equipment allows us to provide the connectivity required to build an architecture that supports 5G full-spectrum systems,” said Nozomu Watanabe, Senior Vice President at NEC.
Working alongside Japanese companies will soon become even more appealing for the UK, with the government signing a historic post-Brexit trade deal with Japan last week. As part of the diplomatic trip to Japan, British International Trade Secretary Liz Truss spoke to NEC Chairman Nobuhiro Endo about 5G, leading to the tweet below suggesting NEC will help rollout 5G in the UK and look towards the creation of a 5G Open RAN Center of Excellence.
Japanese tech giant @NEC_jp_pr to support roll out of 5G in the UK.
The UK-Japan trade agreement signed today will bring two of the world’s most technologically advanced nations & democratic allies closer together. https://t.co/l78q7w24Ur
— Department for International Trade (@tradegovuk) October 23, 2020
With respect to Open RAN, last week NEC-Europe, together with Altiostar and Vodafone-Ziggo. teamed up to perform the first successful voice call over an open virtual RAN in the Netherlands. If ties with NEC and Japan continue to improve, Open RAN may begin to gain even more momentum in the UK as we enter 2021.
NTT recently acquired close to 5% ownership of NEC, which is example of an emerging trend of vertical integration in the OpenRAN world (for example Altiostar’s owners include Rakuten and Telefonica).
Commenting on the NEC announcement, Guillermo Pedraja, Head of Networks, 5G & IoT Consulting at NTT DATA UK said in a statement that “the UK government’s collaboration with NEC points to a thriving future for UK-Japanese cooperation, with the recent free trade agreement ensuring that businesses from both countries remain closely aligned as they lead the world in technology and innovation.”
He also saw in 5G an opportunity for the resurgence of Japanese technology companies in general. “Japanese firms are also positioning themselves as global centres of innovation in telecommunications technology. NTT’s decision early this year to take a 5% stake in NEC was an important moment that showcased Japanese telco giants’ willingness to combine forces to accelerate their capabilities in the 5G space,” Pedraja added.
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20 Nov 2020 Update from Iaian Morris of Light Reading:
NEC picked the UK for its grandly named “Global Open RAN Center of Excellence.” Open RAN, the technology it has been developing with Rakuten, is the telecom industry’s latest obsession. It promises to release operators from the strictures imposed by Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, stimulating network competition with an elixir of software and commodity kit. NEC, having landed the Rakuten gig, feels resurgent.
Open RAN, and Vodafone’s commitment to it, “could give the UK an opportunity to gain a foothold in the telecom equipment market,” wrote Scott Petty, the chief technology officer of Vodafone UK, in a company blog this month. Grilled by UK politicians earlier this year, Howard Watson, Petty’s counterpart at BT, said he was gutted the UK had no suppliers left standing.
“We have allowed ourselves in the UK along with many other countries, including the US, to have lost the manufacturing part of the supply chain and I do look back with regret on that and think anything we can do to stimulate that for the next generation of telecom technology would be very welcome,” he said.
The UK’s desire to cultivate its own suppliers can be inferred from a submission by Mavenir, a US company developing open RAN software, to the same committee that has quizzed Amin, Petty and Watson this year. “The UK continues to have leading innovative companies,” it says in the paper, a copy of which Light Reading has obtained. “These are not currently in a very strong position but with the right policy support they can underpin the resurgence of UK industry.”
Mavenir cites CommScope, ACEAXIS, Filtronic, ip.access and Altiostar as examples of these innovative companies. Yet while CommScope and Altiostar have a UK presence, they are US firms, and Altiostar is majority owned by Rakuten. ip.access is based in Cambridge, in the UK’s “Silicon Fen,” but it was acquired by Mavenir this year. A far bigger $40 billion takeover of Arm, a Cambridge-based chip designer, by Nvidia, an American chipmaker, would place the UK’s only non-telco member of the O-RAN Alliance, the group developing open RAN specifications, under US ownership, too, although the transaction faces regulatory obstacles.
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