NEC to set up 5G open RAN centre of excellence in UK

NEC to set up 5G open RAN centre of excellence in UK

19 November 2020 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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NEC, the vendor that is already supplying open-source 5G equipment to Japan’s Rakuten, is to set up a centre of excellence in the UK.

The company, increasingly seen as a competitor to the mobile industry’s big three, Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, says the new unit will accelerate the global adoption of open radio access networks (open RAN or ORAN) and will strengthen its structure for accelerating the global deployment of 5G.

“Our customers expect commercial grade quality and operational readiness to underpin the deployment of open RAN technology in their networks,” said Atsuo Kawamura (pictured), president of NEC’s network services business unit.

In April Rakuten, which has started an ORAN-based 5G cloud-native network in Japan to compete with KDDI, NTT DoCoMo and SoftBank, named NEC as the supplier of its ORAN equipment, with a factory in Fukushima in central Honshu. At the time Kawamura said: “By expanding the open 5G ecosystem, NEC will contribute to the creation of new mobile services around the world.” Rakuten launched its cloud-based 5G services in October. 

Last month after a meeting with the UK government in Tokyo, NEC said it would be “supporting 5G in the UK”. Today Kawamura said about the company’s UK plans: “NEC will be a strategic partner to our customers in making that happen through our technology leadership, R&D capability as a RAN product vendor ourselves, and operational experience we have gained through generations of RAN deployment.”

NEC has not said where in the UK its new centre of excellence will be. Capacity has asked for more details. NEC already has a unit on an R&D estate in Leatherhead, south-west of London, called NEC Telecom Modus, wholly owned since April 2008.

According to Cambridge Wireless, the association of which NEC Telecom Modus is a member, it “is dedicated to the design, development and innovative application of advanced mobile radio-communication base stations, associated switching and control systems, primarily based on the 3GPP standards”. It appears not yet to have a working website – even via NEC’s UK index.

In this morning’s announcement, the company said the unit will be responsible for business and solution development, product development support, project execution and technical support for its global open RAN business.

It will form the backbone of NEC’s global project delivery capability, said the company, building on its long-term experience in communication network deployment, including wireless networks, across the globe.

It will work with an existing open RAN lab in India, “which will be responsible for building up open RAN ecosystems with interoperability validation in a multi-vendor environment, as well as verifying product and system level performance and quality assurance”.

NEC said it “will drive initiatives to promote openness of networks at full scale through an open RAN ecosystem that includes its own advanced product portfolio as well as the leading-edge products of partner companies”.

UPDATE: NEC in Tokyo told Capacity on Friday that the centre of excellence will be at the company's UK headquarters in South Ruislip, a western suburb of London.,