Japanese operator KDDI is ramping up its Open RAN activities ahead of a full-scale rollout in 2024.

The company switched on its first Open RAN site in Kawasaki last February. On Tuesday, KDDI announced it has begun lighting up Open vRAN sites on its commercial 5G network in Osaka City. They use Samsung’s virtualised central unit (vCU) and virtualised distributed unit (vDU), and Fujitsu massive MIMO radio units. General-purpose servers are being used for the vRAN software and virtualised core network functions.

KDDI also said the software at the sites has been updated to provide support for 5G non-standalone (NSA), meaning any end user with a 5G smartphone should be able to connect to the network. KDDI is also rolling out multi-user (MU) MIMO. Added to Wi-Fi a few years ago, the technology improves capacity and spectral efficiency by enabling multiple devices to share the same block of spectrum without compromising throughput. KDDI claims this is the world’s first commercial MU-MIMO implementation in a multi-vendor Open RAN environment.

In an effort to make the deployment as rapid and efficient as possible, KDDI has rolled out a zero touch provisioning system that automates the configuration of servers and virtualised platforms from different vendors as soon as the base station goes live.

“The expansion of 5G services promises a variety of exciting new applications that offer the possibility of a more connected world, realised through unprecedented speeds achieved with leading edge communication technologies. The sudden increase of different network-connected devices is also expected to lead to a rapid increase in communication volume, however, creating strain for communications networks,” said KDDI, in a statement. “Building advanced systems that can handle this increase in traffic, as well as achieving faster deployment and lower costs for network technologies represent an urgent priority for vendors working to build 5G network infrastructure.”

If all goes well in Osaka, KDDI and its partners aim to commence a full-scale deployment of Open vRAN sites next year.

KDDI’s enthusiasm for the technology further cements the Japanese mobile market as an Open RAN trailblazer.

Rakuten Mobile is perhaps the biggest Open RAN cheerleader, its Open RAN 5G network boasting 6,440 base stations by the end of last September. There is also the not-so-small matter of Rakuten Symphony, the wholly-owned subsidiary that offers an Open RAN-based communications platform to operators worldwide.

Japanese incumbent DoCoMo is also enthusiastic about Open RAN. Most recently in October, it signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Vodafone, under which they committed to harmonising operator system integration and test processes to bring greater efficiency to Open RAN deployments.

2023 is already shaping up to be another interesting year for Open RAN then. Research firm Dell’Oro found that Open RAN spending as a proportion of the total RAN market exceeded its expectations in 2022, accounting for more than 5% of total spending. Last week, it reiterated that it expects Open RAN to account for 6-10% of total RAN market spending this year.

“Going into 2022, we projected Open RAN would comprise around 3% of the full-year 2022 market. Per our 3Q22 RAN report, our analysis indicates Open RAN revenues surged at a much steeper pace than expected.”

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