While the devices unit of Samsung continues to deal with the disaster that is the Galaxy Note 7, the networks division, with a wealth of R&D and expertise in millimeter wave, has a unique opportunity to drive 5G forward.
“We have a number of businesses that will be touched by 5G,” from mobile devices to consumer electronics, said Alok Shah, VP of strategy, business development and marketing in Samsung Electronics America’s Networks Division, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech. “There’s kind of an opportunity, especially when you think of 5G use cases, to bring together that internal ecosystem that we offer to ensure that we have a leadership position in 5G.”
Samsung also has a number of businesses outside of Samsung Electronics that are potentially customers of 5G. “We talk a lot about 5G enabling new efficiencies and new capabilities within industry verticals,” Shah said, including transportation, financial services and healthcare.
Samsung is actually in a number of those businesses already – it builds ships and of course, buildings, and in South Korea, it not only runs a medical center but also makes medical equipment.
“We think we’re really well positioned to be a contributor and drive the success of 5G forward,” Shah said.
Samsung last month held its first 5G Summit, which it hopes will become an annual event, in Silicon Valley, where it brought together analysts, ecosystem partners and even competing vendors to talk about what’s important for the industry as it prepares for 5G. Across the industry, there’s a belief that standardization and 3GPP’s activities are important, even though for some operators, business drivers are causing them to move faster toward commercialization. One key theme Shah observed during the event is the important role of test equipment vendors, which ensure that vendors and their gear are capable of interoperability, among other things.
After the summit, Current Analysis analyst Ed Gubbins said 5G is something of a make-or-break opportunity for Samsung’s aspirations in the RAN sector. The vendor didn’t make good on the goals it set four years ago for its RAN business; namely, to be a top three global supplier of LTE networks in 2013 and a top-three supplier of mobile networks in 2015, he said.
But the rare RAN-vendor selection event occasioned by 5G is Samsung's best chance yet to significantly raise its stature in the global RAN space, Gubbins said, noting the company has several things going for it, including the fact that the parent company has its tentacles in everything from devices to enterprise IT, public safety and industrial manufacturing.
Shah said “make or break” is a strong term.
“I think we’ve been in this space for a long time, we’ll continue to be in this space for a long time, but 5G offers a really interesting time for us to differentiate ourselves,” he said.
Gubbins also said in his report after the summit that Samsung needs to take a more publicly aggressive approach to 3.5 GHz, also known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band, that involves a three-tiered approach to sharing, the details of which are still being hammered out through various stakeholders and the FCC. Gubbins suggested Samsung join the CBRS Alliance, which officially launched in August with Access Technologies (Alphabet), Federated Wireless, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ruckus Wireless.
Shah said Samsung has spoken with members of the CBRS Alliance and is aware that effort is getting off the ground, but he didn’t say whether Samsung is ready to commit to joining.
“We certainly find CBRS and 3.5 GHz to be quite interesting,” he said. “We don’t have [3.5 GHz] product announcements to make at this time, but … from the perspective of operators and new entrants who can take advantage of mobility, it’s a very compelling band.”
For mobile operators, it represents 150 megahertz of spectrum, and that’s a tremendous opportunity, he said. As for new entrants who aren’t currently spectrum license holders, it offers a path to market where they can deploy private networks or support enterprise activities in a post-DAS world.
“There’s a great opportunity overall for the marketplace to take advantage of new spectrum” as it’s available, he said.
Although the standards process typically requires a lot of time to reach consensus and it rarely moves fast enough, when it comes to 5G, Shah said he’s not directly involved in the standards process but from his vantage point, it’s working.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever seen 3GPP move faster,” he said, echoing a sentiment some other industry players have shared.