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Will 5G give Samsung a chance at global Radio Access Network glory?

LTE it be, prays vendor

Analysis Will 5G bring Samsung the network infrastructure success which has largely eluded it outside of its home country?

Samsung was part of a group of network equipment vendors – also including NEC and Motorola – which missed out on the W-CDMA 3G market, except in a few niches. All these companies had plans to seize share back from the 3G giants when 4G came along. Motorola and Samsung built on their strong CDMA bases and focused heavily on WiMAX, in the hope that – as in the 3G world – there would be a powerful alternative to the main 3GPP platform, which they could control.

That failed when LTE asserted its dominance. Motorola faded back into its public safety comfort zone after its break-up, but NEC and Samsung both saw the new architectures which were emerging with LTE as a way to gain footholds. Both have had major initiatives in small cells and Cloud-RAN (cloud-based radio access networks).

These have hardly moved the needle in terms of mobile network market share, however, despite Samsung’s flagship deal with Sprint (A legacy of its WiMAX episode) and NEC’s continuing strength in its Japanese homeland.

But innovative small cell, virtualization and MIMO technologies may stand these companies in good stead for 5G, if they can secure operator relationships now. For all the things we don’t know about 5G, we can assume it will often be built on disaggregated, virtualized networks, with processing and intelligence split between centralized Cloud-RAN and distributed Mobile Edge Computing platforms. Such architectures are so new that they have the chance to shake up the entrenched mobile vendor group and usher in a more diverse supply chain.

Many developments need to occur to make this dream a reality, including truly open interfaces between the various network components (not the semi-opennness of the he Common Public Radio Interface [CPRI], for instance). But the operators, traditional and webscale, are pushing for change, and to cope with the transformation of the network into an IT platform, most radio vendors will need new partnerships.

Samsung allies with HPE

Samsung’s announcement of an alliance with HPE, then, made us think that the Korean firm really might be in line for 5G power, not just on the device side, but with an infrastructure business that it was reportedly close to selling earlier this year. It has been active in 5G R&D and standards bodies and has run some interesting tests and trials, with a heavy focus on the fashionable area of high frequency spectrum.

But to bridge the gap from clever demonstrations to commercial success, partnerships will be essential to establish Samsung’s credibility on the IT side of the new network. HPE is clearly an IT power player, but has its own challenges in moving into the mobile network space, as highlighted by its loss of some of its master integrator role in Telefonica’s huge Unica virtualization project.

So Samsung could be a good match, bringing fewer of the conflicts of interest inherent in working with Ericsson (which has its Cisco partnership), or even Nokia (though the Finnish firm does cooperate with HPE). Samsung and HPE say they will jointly provide carriers with integrated NFV (network functions virtualization) infrastructure and associated virtual network functions (VNFs). They said they will bring together their complementary expertise in carrier networks and IT telecoms.

As part of the partnership, Samsung will join the HPE OpenNFV Partner Program, and Woojune Kim, head of the firm’s next generation communications strategy team, said: "We see profound potential on joining the HPE OpenNFV Partner Program to ensure a variety of choices for carriers in selecting NFV providers, along with the commercially proven NFV solution we developed in 2015."

The two companies will also jointly sell pre-verified third party solutions, such as virtual private LTE services, software-defined wireless area networks WAN and virtual CPE, to carriers, providing integration services.

The partner programme aims to place HPE at the centre of a web of NFV technology, applications and services providers, all of which have tested and validated solutions on ETSIcompliant HPE OpenNFV infrastructure. In this bid to make its own framework the dominant and trusted one for multivendor NFV deployments, HPE is making a bold play for the mobile network, by tapping into operators’ real desire to end the lock-in of the big three radio network vendors – an opportunity which may also be grasped in future by Google or Amazon.

With its lack of radio expertise, and its need to build its ecosystem rapidly to raise the barriers to other NFV frameworks, HPE will find mobile network partners particularly valuable.

Werner Schaefer, general manager of NFV at HPE, said in a statement: “HPE and Samsung have already collaborated successfully behind the scenes on NFV projects that are transforming communications service providers and their old school networks to agile telco cloud environments ready to satisfy the ever increasing demands of their customers while reducing cost.”

And Samsung is expanding its range of carrier relationships based around 5G. In the past week, it made announcements with long term customer SK Telecom and with MTS of Russia.

SK Telecom and MTS

Samsung and SK Telecom said they had tested handover between two outdoor 5G base stations in the 28 GHz band. This was reportedly the world’s first trial to verify the performance of 5G handover by connecting two millimeter wave base stations to an operator’s fiber infrastructure.

The two companies had already built a 28 GHz 5G prototype network a year ago and ran tests of coverage and transmission speeds in March. Since then, they have demonstrated other capabilities on the system, including full HD video calling, UHD video streaming and other capabilities to support high bandwidth and low latency services.

“By securing the millimeter wave handover technology - which enables users to experience seamless provision of 5G services while on the move in a wide area – the two companies are now one step closer to a basis for realizing pre-5G and 5G services,” said Park Jinhyo, head of the operator’s network R&D centre.

“Through our demonstration of handover between mmWave* 5G base stations, we have realized a network environment that is the closest by far to the real 5G network to be created in the future,” added Cheun Kyung-whoon, head of Samsung’s next generation business team.

Meanwhile, Samsung and MTS have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore LTE-Advanced and 5G technologies such as advanced carrier aggregation and MIMO, LTEBroadcast, multipath transmission control protocols and NB-IoT. Samsung has provided LTE networks since 2013 for MTS’s deployment in the north west federal district of Russia.

The operator’s VP of technology, Andrei Ushatskiy, said: “Paying close attention already now to innovative research and development, when new standard requirements are still under formation, we build a basis for quick 5G implementation in the future, considering growing subscriber needs and changing environment on country’s telecom market. Commercial deployment of new technologies, including an area of IoT, will make it possible for us to occupy new market niches in both corporate and mass market domains.”

MTS is also working with Nokia to build a pre-5G network in time for the 2018 World Cup.

Copyright © 2016, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

* Millimetre wave (also known as millimetre band) is the band of spectrum between 30 Ghz and 300 Ghz. Researchers currently test 5G wireless broadband tech on millimetre wave spectrum.


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