The UK’s New 5G Plan: A Japanese Rescue?

It has been recently revealed that NEC (Japan’s leading telecommunications company) has publicised their aim to establish an Open Ran centre in the UK. Such moves could possibly define the UK’s telecommunications 5G rollout.  

This Open RAN Centre has said they aim “to accelerate the global adoption of Open RAN and to further strengthen its structure for accelerating the global deployment of 5G.” Open Ran allows different telecommunication companies to supply and build separate parts of entire communications network. In addition to this, they facilitate the development of alternatives to companies like Nokia and Huawei.

NEC have said that the centre will operate the “business development, assist project execution and provide technical support for NEC’s Open RAN business”. From this, they aim to leverage their experience in deploying Open Ran within Japan to then moving internationally as a telecom provider.

It has been revealed that the centre will work with a separate Open Ran Laboratory 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.” The declaration follows the UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement in October this year.  What this demonstrates is that with the arrival of the NEC’s Open Ran centre in the UK is not merely just part of any ordinary trade agreement.

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This comes after the UK’s banning of all Huawei infrastructure (due to national security concerns), with the UK’s invitation for NEC to support the development of the nation’s 5G networks. Overall, this could possibly symbolise growing defence and security ties between both Japan and the UK.

British Ambassador to Japan Paul Madden had previously written in the Japan Times early this year that “Last year saw British soldiers undertaking joint exercises on Japanese soil for the first time, and Self-Defense Forces troops exercised in the UK, too”. Both the Royal Air Force and Japan’s Air Self-Defence Force have trained together in Honshu previously.

In addition to this, NTT (Japan’s biggest telecommunications provider and major partner of NEC) has established a new global headquarters in London in the previous year. NEC is also a major figure in the UK’s government regional headquarters, so the UK is not starting from scratch.

In March this year, both NEC and Rakuten Mobile teamed up in building base stations around Japan for Rakuten Mobile’s Open Ran network. This meant the launching of 5G services in parts of “Hokkaido and the greater Tokyo and Osaka-Kobe metropolitan areas. It aims to expand nationwide by March 2021”. As such, Rakuten Mobile is aiming to be the world’s first fully virtual cloud-native mobile network. It aims to achieve this by using equipment from NEC, Nokia and Cisco to provide Japan’s with its cheapest 4/5G network services.

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What this shows is that Rakuten could possibly be a viable option in a multi-vendor telecommunication approach, which should remove the possibility of networks from single enterprise suppliers. For the UK, this is truly useful as the nation currently lacks its own national telecommunication equipment company.

Last May, the Open RAN Policy Coalition was launched in the US. Executive Director Diane Rinaldo was previously acting administrator of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information.

In May this year, the US has created a policy coalition regarding Open Ran amongst telecommunication providers and equipment makers. These have included members like “NEC, NTT, Rakuten Mobile and Fujitsu from Japan, Samsung, Nokia, Verizon, Telefonica and Deutsche Telecom along with AT&T, Cisco, Dell, Microsoft, Oracle, Qualcomm, Xilinx and numerous other American companies”. Such a policy coalition has excluded Chinese companies.

In addition to this, NEC’s technological equipment deployment of 5G will include biometrics, further video analytics and facial recognition. It is assumed that the target markets will be cybersecurity, counterterrorism, logistics and digital healthcare. This situation ultimately shows that Japan could be the UK’s 5G escape from Huawei and that the recently signed trade agreement is more than an economic partnership in principle.

Featured image credit: John Schnobrich on Unsplash

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