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open RAN

NEC expands open RAN SI skillset with Aspire

Japan's NEC, which has already made impressive inroads into the open RAN systems integration space – perhaps most notably with Telefónica – is not resting on its O-RAN-compliant laurels.

For an undisclosed sum NEC has agreed to buy Dublin-headquartered Aspire Technology, described by the Japanese supplier as having "unique skills" in designing and integrating open networks. Those skills are viewed by NEC as a "critical need" for successful adoption of 5G open RAN.

The acquisition is expected to be completed this month, following confirmation of "necessary procedures and approvals" from both NEC and Aspire.

We're now better than other SIs, claims NEC

With the addition of Aspire, NEC reckons it will strengthen its SI offering for 5G open RAN applications, which – it points out – require an increased level of systems design and integration when compared with legacy ecosystems.

As well as open RAN SI know-how, Aspire brings to the table what NEC calls "solutions and services across the full network lifecycle" for legacy cellular architectures.

"The SI business is all about people and expertise," said Naohisa Matsuda, general manager of NEC's 5G strategy and business, in prepared remarks.


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"The strong capabilities and the deep pool of talented engineers at Aspire Technology, combined with their portfolio of technology solutions and applications, is a big step forward for our NEC open networks strategy."

Matsuda made the bold claim that NEC was now "better prepared than any supplier to integrate disaggregated network components into a well-tuned ecosystem."

The SI challenge

NEC has already built up some open RAN SI experience, working with various hardware and software suppliers.

As part of O2 Germany's open RAN trials, NEC, as the operator's lead SI, is reportedly marshaling an ecosystem comprising Altiostar, Dell, GigaTera, Intel, Red Hat, Supermicro and Xilinx.

Being an open RAN SI, however, is not the easiest of tasks. According to Tommi Uitto, head of Nokia's mobile business, integration is one of the biggest headaches when deploying the nascent tech using multiple suppliers.

"There are so many different implementation options," he recently told Light Reading. "The standard is too open on that. We have to agree on how to implement beamforming in the DU and RU, even if it is O-RAN compliant. It is not accurate or precise enough to be plug-and-play."

Aspire and GSMA, just before the end of 2021, conducted a survey on the state of the open RAN market. The survey included 370 participants: mobile operators, fixed line operators, MVNOs, and hardware and software vendors.

One of its findings was that "specialized" SIs will be most in demand from operators when it comes to handling the integration of open RAN in the network.

— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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