TOKYO — Japan will set up a wide area experimental network as early as 2022 to experiment with the 5G open radio access networks, known as Open RAN, Nikkei has learned, in an effort to enhance economic security against the rising presence of Chinese equipment makers.
The initiative will be led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications and Japan’s leading communication companies. NTT Docomo, Rakuten Mobile and NEC are expected to be included.
Normally, base station equipment is supplied by a single equipment manufacturer. A small number of players lead the field, and most of the global market is controlled by Huawei Technologies, Ericsson and Nokia.
There has hitherto been little room for Japanese companies to compete because existing base stations already have manufacturers’ specifications incorporated.
Open RAN is a collaboration of equipment makers and telecom companies in different working groups to solve interoperability issues by creating common standards.
Japanese regulators believe Open RAN will lower costs, and make Japanese companies more competitive against Chinese rivals.
The government is designating Yokosuka Research Park in Kanagawa prefecture near Tokyo as an experimental area for Docomo and Rakuten to conduct tests. The two companies will evaluate the connectivity and security of base stations that the various groups have developed.
In order to bring the experiments closer to practical application, YRP will be networked with other sites within a 30km radius, including Docomo’s own development site.
According to the ministry, Japan’s four top telecoms will be ready to roll out 5G base stations across the country by April 2024.
There is meanwhile rising concern over communication infrastructure security. Highly fearful of any data leaks to China, the U.S. has been wary of Chinese-made equipment in general and sanctioned Huawei.
Germany’s Deutsche Telekom and France’s Orange are leading players in Open RAN in Europe, but Chinese companies are gaining ground.
Japan wants to strengthen cooperation with the U.S. and other Quad countries, and it committed to accelerating Open RAN in a joint statement at April’s U.S.-Japan summit and a Quad leaders summit in September that also included Australia and India.
Japan is also pushing collaboration with Western telecom manufacturers. Docomo, Rakuten Mobile, NEC, Fujitsu and other companies are preparing an application for technical specifications to the O-RAN Alliance, an international organization that promotes Open RAN and includes many telecom companies and research universities in Europe and the U.S.