TOKYO — The U.S. and Japan are stepping up efforts to advance expertise on 5G base stations in Southeast Asia, responding to China’s growing influence in a field that has emerged as a major economic security concern.
The U.S. Agency for International Development on Wednesday launched the Asia Open RAN Academy in the Philippines as part of the push by Tokyo and Washington to enhance knowledge in open radio access networks across members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
“It is worth noting that the academy is part of the Biden-Harris administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy in the region, which really seeks to support an open, secure, interoperable and reliable Indo-Pacific region,” a USAID representative said at an online launch event that day.
“It is imperative that every nation’s telecommunications be secure, affordable, and accessible to all citizens, and collaborative institutions like the Asia Open RAN Academy will help us to achieve this goal,” U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel said in a statement.
“By partnering with Japan and other nations, we will provide critical communications support that is open and transparent, has no strings attached, and is free from coercion,” he said.
Open RAN allows the use of equipment from a variety of different vendors, preventing any single supplier from China or elsewhere from dominating telecommunications networks. The U.S. and Japan had said they would launch an Open RAN training academy in Southeast Asia this year in a fact sheet for the May summit between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
The academy will initially offer classes to students in the Philippines, for example, with plans to later serve more of Southeast Asia and the Indo-Pacific region. Representatives from Japanese companies NTT Docomo, Rakuten Group, NEC and Fujitsu were among the participants in Wednesday’s event.
Docomo sees major opportunities in exporting equipment for Open RAN. It was a founding member in the 2018 launch of an international organization that promotes interoperability in mobile base equipment. Facing a declining population and mobile service rates at home, the company is eager to make inroads into overseas markets for mobile stations.
Rakuten Group has base stations that use Open RAN, and the company wants to promote the advantages of this approach in terms of cost and security. Traditional network-building is too costly and complex, according to Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Symphony.
Huawei Technologies, Nokia and Ericsson together control an estimated 80% or so of the global base station market. Huawei is training telecommunications specialists in Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia and Cambodia through its Huawei ASEAN Academy.
Telecom supply chains have emerged as a key priority for economic security, given the growing Chinese presence in the field. The U.S. and Japan are at a key juncture in efforts to regain their clout in 5G and other communications technology in Southeast Asia.
By MAYUMI HIROSAWA, Nikkei staff writer