The two Japanese companies are well known for championing the disaggregated RAN technology and have now signed a deal to promote open RAN worldwide

In the last year and a half, Rakuten has launched its fully virtualised mobile network in Japan, launching 5G back in September 2020. Since then, the company has been hinting that it would be seeking to offer its Open RAN network platform to operators abroad.

Now, it seems that progress is being made towards promoting the operator’s Open RAN Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), with Rakuten announcing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with NEC to provide 5G and 4G radios and engineering services to global operators. 

"Rakuten Mobile has successfully designed, launched and now operates a fully virtualized mobile network. This unique network architecture built on Open RAN standards continues to attract significant interest from operators, enterprises and governments around the world," said Tareq Amin, executive vice president and CTO at Rakuten Mobile.

The MoU builds on Rakuten’s existing partnership with NEC, whereby the latter supplies the operator with 5G radio units.  The duo are also working together to develop Rakuten’s standalone 5G core.

“NEC is already providing Rakuten Mobile with BSS/OSS, 5G RU and 5G core solutions for its revolutionary fully virtualized cloud native network. We hope to continue contributing to the expansion of the Rakuten Communications Platform as it rolls out around the globe,” explained NEC EVP Atsuo Kawamura.

NEC appears to be the main partner for the RCP, but Rakuten is also partnering with Fujitsu to develop Open RAN solutions as part of the platform.

“As we start introducing Rakuten Communications Platform to telco operators, governments and enterprises around the world, we are seeing strong demand for high-performance, cost-effective and high-quality radios for 4G LTE and 5G New Radio (NR) based on open and virtualized RAN. With Japanese quality and a highly competitive cost structure as major differentiators, our joint efforts with Fujitsu are on track to bring significant incremental value to our customers and partners around the world,” explained Amin.

With rolling out 5G not only an expensive process, but also an increasingly politicised one related to national security, Rakuten’s RCP, at least conceptually, could be very appealing to many operators around the world. Open RAN is undeniably gaining steam in various markets around the world, especially in Europe, where five of the continent’s largest operators signed an MoU at the start of the year to collaborate on the new technology. 

However, the extent to which the technology can really compete with that of more traditional RAN vendors like Ericsson and Nokia is unclear. The appetite for more open infrastructure technology is certainly there, but the commitment from the industry is gradual.


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