Nokia not part of second phase Rakuten rollout

Nokia's role in Rakuten's Open RAN won't move to second phase antenna unit.

Rakuten’s proposed “Phase Two” integrated antenna-radiohead design does not include Nokia. The operator is working directly with KMW and with Flex (formerly Flextronics) to make the integrated radio-antenna units. 

As Rakuten launches 4G, it does so with antennas from KMW bolted onto Remote Radio Heads from Nokia. These are connected back to vBBUs from Altiostar – architected as a CU-DU split. Nokia’s involvement in the launch was not a small thing.

The original Nokia RRH with the antenna panel to the left.

It was a key part of a launch that got Rakuten its open, multi-vendor RAN, and apparently took board-level agreement at Nokia to say OK to opening up the RRH to another vendor’s BBU. And the vendor gave considerable support to Rakuten at its various launch events. It was proof of its Open credentials and its willingness to work within an ecosystem. Those remain, as this seems to be more about engineering integration.

As Rakuten moves to a wider deployment beyond its launch phase, CTO Tareq Amin wants a sleeker product – one that is easier to deploy and costs less. So he is specifying an integrated radio-antenna unit, within one enclosure. That won’t be from Nokia, he told TMN. Instead he is working directly with hardware provider Flex and also with KMW – with both companies going ahead with a design.

Rakuten announced the Phase Two antenna units in September, and TMN asked Nokia then if it was involved. It never managed to produce an answer, and this is probably why.

For 5G, the operator has chosen a 3.5GHz antenna-radio unit from NEC and will deploy mmWave small cells from Airspan that are based on the Qualcomm’s FSM 100xx SoC design. In fact here may be rather a lot of those going down, with Amin telling a conference today in Barcelona that street poles are easy to get onto in Japan, and that the country might well have the largest mmWave deployment in the world in 2020. 

Rakuten’s antenna units. L-R: Nokia and KMW, Flex/KMW tbd, Airspan, NEC