Samsung Looks to Europe to Expand Network Equipment Business; vRAN is the key

Samsung Electronics is focusing on Europe to retain its accelerating growth in the network equipment business. Even though Samsung Electronics is number one in memory chips and smartphones, it is behind Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE in the 5G network equipment market.

Samsung Electronics had a 6 to 8% global telecom equipment market share as of the first quarter of 2021, according to Dell’Oro Group’s latest report.  The company is just below Cisco (the world’s dominant router maker) and slightly ahead of Ciena (optical network market leader) to be ranked sixth over all in global telecom equipment revenues.  Samsung is likely #5 in 5G RAN revenues, behind Huawei, Ericsson, Nokia and ZTE, but its 5G market share can not be determined at this time.

Since Samsung landed a $6.65 billion 5G infrastructure deal with Verizon and another huge deal with Japan’s NTT Docomo, its 5G network equipment business has been on an upward sales trajectory.

Samsung is taking extra steps and expanding its range of 5G trials in Europe. Currently, Samsung is conducting 5G trials with European telecom companies such as Deutsche Telekom in the Czech Republic, Play Communications in Poland, and other undisclosed European carriers.

Samsung recently won a big contract with Vodafone to supply the big European network operator with their cloud native virtualized RAN.  That will be deployed in an Open RAN environment with other vendors (see below). Samsung says that it has been continuously leading in vRAN innovation, most recently showing the capability to support the multi-gigabit speeds of Massive MIMO radios on commercial off the shelf (COTS) servers.

“We are proud that this collaboration with Vodafone — one of the premier carriers in the world — will be the first scaled deployment of our pioneering 5G technologies in Europe, including vRAN and O-RAN,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, president and head of Networks Business at Samsung Electronics, in a statement. “This is a major step forward, as more operators are transitioning into new RAN technologies to prioritize user experience and efficiency.”

Vodafone’s initial focus will be on the 2,500 sites in the UK that it committed to open RAN in October 2020. According to Vodafone, it’s one of the largest deployments in the world and will be built jointly with Dell, NEC, Samsung and Wind River.

Asia, Oceana and India:

Samsung is also looking to expand in markets such as Southeast Asia, Australia and India. The South Korean giant said it has gained multiple new clients for its 5G equipment and systems which have increased by nearly 35% a year on average.

Samsung’s 5G vRAN kit debuted in July, adding a virtualized distributed unit (vDU) to its virtualized central unit (vCU) so the entire baseband is virtualized, along with a range of radio units.  Samsung is Verizon’s 5G RAN vendor in parts of upstate New York and New England, a Verizon spokesperson confirmed.  This is depicted in the illustration below:

Block Diagram of Samsung’s vRAN 


Contrary to a recent Reuters article, there are no 5G stand alone/5G core networks in South Korea. Rather, South Korean telecom operators currently provide 5G services via nonstandalone 5G networks, which depend on previous 4G-LTE networks which do NOT have a virtualized core (the 4G core network is called Evolved Packet Core).

The country’s three operators (SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus) launched 5G service in April 2019.  5G NSA networks are available mostly in large Korean cities.  Their 5G RANs are based on 3GPP Release 15 version of 5G-NR.  In April 2021, the three operators agreed to share their 5G networks in 131 remote locations across the country, Yonhap news agency reported

Samsung’s network equipment business is relatively small for the conglomerate.  It had revenue of 236.8 trillion South Korean Won ($212.50 billion) for 2020. The company does not announce separate numbers for the business and most analysts don’t have estimates for it.

Samsung said since the 5G network rollouts began in 2019 in various countries, it has seen the number of new clients for its 5G equipment and systems rise by 35% a year on average.


Huawei, ZTE and other Chinese telecom gear vendors have faced backlash for various security and privacy issues. Since the U.S. has excluded Huawei from 5G rollouts, it has provided multiple opportunities to competitors to expand its market share. Many Central and Eastern European countries, including Romania, Poland, the Czech Republic and the Baltic states, have been broadly receptive to American arguments against Huawei.

Samsung is capitalizing on its virtualized RAN technology that allows telecom companies to freely use off-the-shelf network equipment in various combinations to connect users to networks.  This is how the company plans to win 5G contracts that might otherwise have been awarded to Chinese telecom vendors, especially Huawei.  For example, Verizon says they’ve already adopted Samsung’s vRAN technology for their 5G RAN.

Samsung’s goal is to become top-three in the 5G network equipment business, Woojune Kim, executive vice president of Samsung’s networks business told Reuters. However, Kim did not give a timeframe, citing the industry’s long incubation time period.  “It took us about a decade to win the Verizon deal, since forming early relationships… It takes persistence,” he said.

Therefore, the period to achieve the #3 goal is still unknown.  It might depend on Huawei’s revenue collapsing due to sanctions and Samsung moving ahead of ZTE to claim the #3 position behind Ericsson and Nokia.


2 thoughts on “Samsung Looks to Europe to Expand Network Equipment Business; vRAN is the key

  1. June 22, 2021 Update:

    Samsung Networks, just two years into the 5G era, “already signed more 5G contracts than we did for 4G, and we’ve shipped over 4 million 5G-ready radios,” said Paul Kyungwhoon Cheun, president and head of the business unit.

    Virtualization, in-house chips, and software form the foundation of Samsung’s rise amid global 5G adoption, he said during a presentation.

    “We’ve been supplying 5G products with our own in-house SoCs [system-on-a-chip] since 2019. The number of first-generation 5G SoCs shipped has now passed the 200,000 mark,” Cheun said.

    Virtualization Fuels Samsung’s 5G Rise
    Samsung’s virtualized core is also widely deployed, carrying more than 15% of all global mobile traffic, according to Cheun. “We’re the only major vendor to have commercialized a wide scale virtualized RAN with a tier-one operator in the U.S.,” he added, referring to Samsung’s work with Verizon.

    The Korean vendor last year inked a $6.64 billion deal with Verizon to provide the operator with 5G RAN equipment through 2025. Samsung won that massive contract after Verizon ended the bulk of its business with Nokia and split its RAN contract between Ericsson and Samsung.

    The company also this year won new deals with NTT DoCoMo for 5G RAN and gained a foothold in Vodafone UK’s 5G open RAN deployment.

    Samsung released its first 5G vRAN portfolio earlier this year and recently shared plans to release virtualized 5G massive multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) radios that support mid-band spectrum in early 2022. Ericsson this week said it will release vRAN massive MIMO radios in the second half of 2022.

    “Virtualization is the replacement of dedicated hardware with software,” Woojune Kim, EVP and head of global sales and marketing at Samsung Networks, said during the company’s event.

    Samsung’s fully virtualized RAN and core adheres to cloud-native architecture, and “we are the first company in the industry to offer interoperability between vRAN and massive MIMO radios,” claimed Junehee Lee, Samsung Networks’ EVP and head of research and development.

    Samsung Readies Chips, Radios, 5G SA Core, Network Slicing
    The vendor’s first virtualized core hit the market in 2015. It deployed the world’s first virtualized non-standalone 5G core in 2019, and “now we’re preparing to launch our 5G standalone (SA) core,” Lee said. “We’re confident that our 5G SA core is ready to fully meet the massive data traffic of the 5G era.”

    Samsung is also preparing to release 3GPP compliant and microservices-based network slicing software, according to Lee.

  2. June 22, 2021 Email from Stefan Pongratz:

    Dell’Oro estimates Samsung’s 5G NR market share was in the 10% to 15% range for the 1stQ 2021.

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