Ligado Networks said it will use Rakuten's open RAN platform as the basis for a 5G private wireless network offering.
However, there are a number of caveats to the agreement.
First, the companies announced only a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for Ligado to use the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). Specifically, the companies agreed to "collaborate to create a blueprint for Ligado's 5G mobile private network solution." They added that they will "commence efforts in Q1 2021 with ecosystem partners and vendors to establish a timeline for the implementation of network trials and blueprint for solutions."
Executives from Japan's Rakuten said recently the company had sold its RCP to a total of 15 customers so far, though they have not named any of those customers. Rakuten officials did not answer questions from Light Reading when asked whether Ligado is one of those customers.
RCP leverages open RAN technologies to offer a number of different, interchangeable networking elements including network orchestration, cloud management and artificial intelligence provided by a range of participating suppliers. RCP customers can pick and choose which parts of the platform they wish to use.
On this week's earnings call, Rakuten's Tareq Amin indicated the company expects to announce further RCP progress this year.
"We are optimistic that in 2021 we should be able to start reporting publicly some of the activities that we are doing in RCP," he said. "2021 will be a really positive year for us to take what we have started building in Japan and start the journey of globalization. Revenues are already starting to happen, especially in the OSS [operation support system] layer and orchestration, and this year we will launch our BSS [business support system] platform."
As for Ligado, the Reston, Virginia-based company said RCP will allow it to tackle the private networking opportunity.
"5G mobile private networks are becoming critical infrastructure for many industries. Combining our know-how and licensed L-band spectrum in the US with the Rakuten Communications Platform and open RAN infrastructure, we will create a novel blueprint for delivering new efficiencies to US companies looking to deploy powerful mobile private networks that are highly secure and ultra-reliable," Ligado CEO Doug Smith said in a release.
Ligado has been working under various ownership scenarios for more than a decade to obtain US regulatory approval to transmit mobile signals – first 4G and more recently 5G – in its L-band spectrum holdings. Although the FCC recently reiterated its approval for such efforts, opponents to Ligado's plans managed to insert language into legislation funding the US military calling for additional research into whether operations in Ligado's spectrum will interfere with GPS signals.
That issue continues to drag on Ligado, which recently raised $4 billion in new capital. The company has said its ultimate plan is to build private 5G networks – potentially based on RCP – for enterprise customers, but some analysts believe it's more likely that Ligado will end up selling its spectrum holdings to a company like Verizon.
The financial analysts at New Street Research estimated in a September 2020 report that Ligado's L-band spectrum portfolio could be worth $12 billion to $23 billion depending on how it is configured. However, that calculation was conducted before the FCC's C-band auction generated an astounding $81 billion in total bids, a development that could change such calculations.
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Light Reading's Iain Morris contributed to this report.