NTT DoCoMo forms JV with NEC to push Open RAN systems

Breaking news at MWC24

Operator NTT DoCoMo has formed a JV with NEC to commercialise its Open RAN Ecosystem. The new JV will be known as OREX SAI, and will be 66% owned by DoCoMo. The companies will launch it on 1 April.

NTT DoCoMO launched the Open RAN ecosystem in 2021, and then OREX launched as a brand in 2023 as the company also announced its service line up. OREX produces verified Open RAN system blueprints, using technology from a number of partners. DoCoMo runs some of these stacks in its own network, and wants to commercialise the system and deployment know-how. It is still quite early in the process – it has three live field trials field trials planned in 2024, with Ooredoo, StarHub and Smart, and has previously conducted five Proof of Concept lab trials.

It has decided that a good way to do expand its commercial capability is to lean on NEC as sales lead and system integrator. OREX SAI will procure Open RAN network equipment and software from OREX partners, and then conduct system verification, as well as planning, construction, maintenance and operation for operator customers. OREX offers RAN, SMO and services packages, and the JV will market all of those.

DoCoMo has called previously for more alignment in systems integration, co-authoring a paper with Vodafone on the topic and forming an MoU. In aligning with NEC it is hoping to bring in that company’s systems integration know-how to OREX.

NEC has been viewed as struggling for sales of Open RAN equipment in recent times, although it is RU provider to new German network 1&1, under the auspices of system integrator Rakuten Symphony. At MWC last year it portrayed a downbeat assessment to TMN, and recent stories have picked up on declining international sales. Better news came recently when its mMIMO radio unit came through trials with Vodafone to be deployed at a test site within its UK network, with Vodafone suggesting that the NEC unit would be the radio antenna radio of choice for further Open RAN mMIMO sites.

As a systems integrator it had an initial partnership with Telefonica, which also seems to have stalled somewhat. But it was its global presence that attracted DoCoMo to is presence as a deployment partner for OREX, according to Sadayuki Abeta, OREX evangelist Global Head of Open RAN Solutions, NTT DOCOMO. The company may see taking a 34% share in OREX SAI as a way of boosting that system integrator presence.

“NEC has the strength of a large global footprint and system integrator capabilities. DOCOMO has Open RAN expertise and R&D capabilities but DoCOMo mainly operate domesticcally. NEC has the footprint to provide a commercial presence outside Japan so we we decided to create the JV to accelerate our commercial service outside Japan,” he told journalists on a briefing call.

New partners for OREX

DoCoMo also announced three new OREX partners. AWS is on board as an alternative provider of cloud platform. Marvell and Arm have also joined the likes of AMD, nVidia, Qualcomm and Intel as chip platform partners. OREX has also signed new delivery partners to deliver network instal and services.