NTT DoCoMo launches its own Open RAN ecosystem

Japanese operator will offer to "install, operate, and maintain" Open vRAN for other operators.

NTT DoCoMo is getting into the Open RAN ecosystem creation game, with the announcement that it is working with a clutch of companies to create a verified Open RAN solution that “overseas” operators can use to deploy their own networks.

The Japanese carrier said it will, “aim to package, provide, install, operate, and maintain the optimal radio access network in response to the requests of communication carriers considering the introduction of open RAN.

“By utilizing DoCoMo’s know-how, which has promoted open RAN for many years and put open RAN into practical use in 5G for the first time in the world, we will maximise and integrate the strengths of our partners and provide a flexible and highly expandable network.”

The operator also said that it would be building a new vRAN base station, to be launched in 2022. As the only vRAN company it lists in its partner ecosystem is Mavenir, then perhaps Mavenir will be responsible for this end of the project.

“Furthermore, in order to further promote open RAN, we will develop a more flexible and highly expandable virtualised base station (hereinafter referred to as vRAN) with the aim of commercialisation in 2022.”

Other partners in its ecosystem include chip companies Intel, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Xilinx, Fujitsu and NEC who are presumably providing the RU elements, Red hat, VMWare and WindRiver who are all experts in cloud and virtualisation, and Dell for the hardware.

Nokia, which is a 5G network provider to NTT DoCoMo, and  has been name-checked in previous Open RAN efforts by NTT DoCoMo, was not mentioned this time. Samsung, which was working with NEC and NTT DoCoMo on multi-vendor base station interoperability in September 2020, was also not mentioned in this Open RAN ecosystem release.

NTT DoCoMo is assembling this version of its Open RAN ecosystem in Japan, and said it will make the environment available remotely for other operators to verify the solution.

“In addition, we will provide the vRAN verification environment to be built so that overseas telecommunications carriers considering the introduction of open RAN can use it remotely and freely.”

The announcement suggest two things. First, that the integration element of Open RAN is now rising up the menu, so that operators that have early experience with vRAN and Open RAN think that there is an opportunity to provide a packaged service to other operators who are considering Open RAN.

The balance of the ecosystem – with the four silicon developers – also suggests that the operator sees that there is work to do in underlying chip support, both for the RU and the DU-CU elements.

Secondly, there may be an element of turf wars with Japanese upstart Rakuten, which is commercialising its own know-how and partnerships via its Rakuten Communciations Platform (RCP). Rakuten claims that the RCP will not just its expose Open RAN capabilities, but include its work on automation and orchestration of the cloud native functions in the network.

NTT DoCoMo may not have taken kindly to Rakuten stealing so much thoughtspace in Open RAN, and the inclusion of NEC in NTT’s ecosystem takes Rakuten’s bespoke sub 6GHz 5G RU vendor, and the provider of its 5G core (that Rakuten insisted NEC open source) into the NTT Open RAN line up. Clearly, NEC is already a major supplier to DoCoMo.