Samsung gears up for 5G vRAN with KDDI in Japan

Trials with KDDI are slated to start in the first quarter of 2022 and commercial deployment is planned in the second half of next year. (Getty Images)

Samsung is extending its relationship with Japan’s KDDI by deploying 5G vRAN gear for mid-band spectrum, starting with trials ahead of commercialization next year.

It marks Samsung’s first 5G vRAN rollout in Japan. The vendor already supplied KDDI with 5G gear for its initial rollout in 2020 and for 700 MHz spectrum in March. Earlier this year NTT DoCoMo tapped Samsung for 5G gear in Japan including radios and O-RAN compliant solutions.

With KDDI’s deployment, Samsung is growing its global vRAN reach. The South Korean vendor now has Tier 1 operators signed on for its vRAN platform in major markets including Verizon in the U.S. and Vodafone in the U.K.

RELATED: Vodafone taps Samsung for U.K. open RAN network

“With this announcement, Samsung is the only major vendor to supply vRAN to tier 1 operators in North America, Europe and Asia,” said WooJune Kim, Executive Vice President, head of Global Sales & Marketing, Networks Business at Samsung Electronics, in a statement to Fierce. “Not only are we leading in vRAN technology – for example, so far we are the only vendor showing a vRAN supporting Massive MIMO radios – but we’re also the only vendor widely deployed commercially in a tier 1 U.S. operator’s network, supporting their highest quality and performance requirements.”

Verizon’s wide scale vRAN deployment in lower bands has added credence to a virtualized approach and for Samsung, which is well known for its leading smartphone business, as it looks to challenge the likes of Ericsson and Nokia and compete with newer entrants.

In 2020 Samsung ranked No. 5 in the global RAN market, according to Dell’Oro Group.

Verizon VP Bill Stone told Fierce in January that vRAN performance has been on par if not better than the legacy custom-based technology. Intel, HPE and Wind River are also Verizon vRAN partners. Now the operator is gearing up for mid-band deployments of C-band spectrum.

RELATED: Verizon, Samsung fire up 5G vRAN trial with Massive MIMO on C-band

Samsung’s vRAN portfolio includes a virtualized central unit (vCU) and virtualized distributed unit (vDU). With vRAN baseband functions can be split from dedicated hardware into software elements (vCU and vDU) and placed separately. Some benefits include giving mobile operators more flexibility in network deployment and scalability, and efficiency in allocating resources to meet new performance requirements for things like speed and latency.

Trials with KDDI are slated to start in the first quarter of 2022 and commercial deployment is planned in the second half of next year. To prep for commercialization, both companies will be conducting various tests though details are still under discussion and the vendor couldn’t provide additional information at this time, according to a Samsung spokesperson.

“We believe in the power of virtualization, and this collaboration serves as a meaningful catalyst for driving the next phase of 5G innovation, and advancing our networks to offer best-in-class 5G services,” said KDDI CTO Kazuyuki Yoshimura in a statement.

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The scale of the vRAN trials and deployment with Samsung in Japan wasn’t immediately clear, and the spokesperson couldn’t say whether major cities or rural areas would see the technology.

“With our industry-leading vRAN solutions, we are proud to build a strong foundation to enable KDDI subscribers to enjoy the benefits of an enhanced and advanced network,” Samsung said in response to questions from Fierce.

RELATED: Samsung wins 5G deal with NTT DoCoMo in Japan

For upper mid-band rollouts, Dell’Oro VP Stephen Pongratz has pegged massive MIMO as a key technology thanks to improvements in both capacity and range.

And recently, Samsung’s flexed capabilities including field trials of 5G vRAN supporting the vendor’s latest C-band Massive MIMO radios, which topped speeds of 1.5 Gbps. In July it completed the first fully virtualized 5G data session using a C-band Massive MIMO radio over Verizon’s live network, highlighting the network programmability vRAN can help deliver.  

Through its earlier collaborations Samsung supplied massive MIMO radios for KDDI but the operator has also used other vendors. For example, in a recent demo of a standalone 5G call, KDDI used Samsung’s vRAN alongside another supplier’s 5G massive MIMO radios, which were O-RAN compliant.

Open RAN is key for Vodafone in the U.K., where Samsung will see its first scaled deployment vRAN technologies in Europe. The effort is focused on 2,500 sites initially, built jointly with Dell, NEC and Wind River.