NTT Docomo outlined a plan to tap its deep open RAN experience to support other operators’ adoption of the approach and commercial launches of virtualised networks, taking a page from rival Rakuten Mobile’s playbook with its Symphony platform.

In a presentation, Sadayuki Abeta of Docomo’s RAN Development Department, said it is targeting operators in Asia and Europe, but acknowledged it is early days. As a first step, it opened its lab to other operators last month.

“Our focus is on open networks and we are working with 13 diverse global vendors to maximise the strengths of each partner, rather than simply integrating their technologies,” he explained.

Docomo asserted this will enable operators to deploy flexible and scalable networks, giving customers a wide range of possible combinations of equipment and software.

For example, most operators don’t have the experience to verify interoperability tests between different vendors. By using Docomo’s expertise and facilities, Abeta said operators can significantly reduce testing costs by eliminating the need to set up their own laboratory.

In early January, Docomo partnered with Fujitsu to complete verification tests for South Korea-based KT using open RAN 5G base stations.

Docomo is talking with others, but Abeta said no other contracts have been worked out.

Business models
While there are many business models to consider, Abeta said Docomo is currently looking at two options: a consulting model to help operators introduce the technologies; and offering open RAN packages in collaboration with its partners.

Asked about the future of the open RAN ecosystem is terms of the number of suppliers, Abeta stated having many vendors gives operators more choice.

“The ecosystem is expanding: it’s hard to say how many the market will end up with in the future.”

Docomo was an early open RAN advocate, having been a founder of the O-RAN Alliance in 2018.

In February 2021, it established a coalition of global technology companies to accelerate open RAN.

Abeta said Docomo plans to double the number of 5G base stations deployed to 20,000 “in a short time”, targeting 90 per cent population coverage by March 2024.

Its 5G subscriber base recently reached 10 million, accounting for roughly 12 per cent of nearly 84 million mobile customers.

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