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Rakuten is building an Open RAN Center in the UK

Rakuten Mobile is building an open radio access network (RAN) “experience center” in the United Kingdom, expanding its center reach and joining a growing list of vendors basing their regional 5G open RAN efforts in the U.K.

The Open RAN Customer Experience Center will be constructed at Rakuten’s Symphony offices and is scheduled to open by March 2023. Rakuten Symphony is the firm’s infrastructure and software division focused on expanding its open RAN architecture into more networks around the world.

The center will focus on validating interoperability of devices to meet O-RAN Alliance specifications. This will include connectivity verification for multi-vendor environments targeted at European and Middle East operators.

It will also provide an exhibition facility to demonstrate the performance of open RAN hardware and software. This includes the radio unit (RU), central unit (CU), and distributed unit (DU). The center will also conduct workshops and events focused on open RAN-related “policies, trends, and initiatives.”

Rakuten’s Symphony division is becoming an increasingly important part of Rakuten’s telecom efforts. CEO Tareq Amin recently explained the year-old platform counted 14 current customers, has generated $315 million in sales, and is sitting on a $3.1 billion booking pipeline.

“We think in the next five quarters we’re going to work and really put all of our energy and effort to break through that billion-dollar target mark for revenue for Symphony,” Amin said.

Rakuten Open RAN Boosts U.K. Presence
The Rakuten U.K. center announcement follows on the heels a similar facility launch in Tokyo in August. That Rakuten center is within the operators’ already established Cloud Innovation Lab. Interested vendors, operators, or other organizations can remotely connect to the lab and in-house open virtualized RAN (vRAN) verification equipment or work with Rakuten to have the operator build technology verification capabilities owned by partner companies.

The center also follows on a deal earlier this year between Rakuten Symphony, NEC, and U.K. operator Virgin Media O2 to conduct a joint open RAN field trial across a handful of live sites on the carrier’s commercial network. The live trial is using NEC’s system integration services, Rakuten Symphony’s Open RAN software, edge cloud, radio management, and operations systems, and is running in Virgin Media O2’s brownfield network in the Northamptonshire region of the U.K.

The U.K. government has aggressively looked to tap into the open RAN ecosystem to better secure domestic networks.

The government in mid-2020 mandated that all network equipment from China-based vendor Huawei be removed by 2027. That led European operators like Vodafone, Deutsche Telekom, Orange, and Telefónica to push toward open RAN platforms in an attempt to expand and diversify their vendor options. sdxcentral

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