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Despite an abyssal 5G drop in 2022, the world’s first open vRAN nation pursues its conquest of the world

April 2023

LightCounting releases its Japan Wireless Infrastructure Update Report

April 27, 2023 -- LightCounting’s latest report focuses on Japan’s wireless infrastructure market and analyzes the implications of the introduction of Rakuten Mobile and the Japanese government’s open vRAN push.

Led by Rakuten Mobile that built an open vRAN network from scratch, and NTT docomo that introduced open RAN in its brownfield network by forcing its incumbent vendors to open their interfaces and is currently migrating to open vRAN, Japan is the world’s first open vRAN nation and boasts the most advanced cloud-based technologies: open RAN BTS accounted for 46% of total units deployed in 2022, mostly driven by 4G so far. By contrast, due to natural disasters that worsened the existing supply chain issues, and the lack of motivation to invest in 5G in the absence of a killer app, 5G rollouts took a deep dive in 2022.

“Once again, 4G came to the rescue for a second year in a row. Despite the 5G in their domestic market, NTT docomo’s OREX initiative and Rakuten Symphony stay their international expansion course, so do Fujitsu and NEC. Both vendors continue to build their international clout with their open RAN product portfolio and system integration services,” said Stéphane Téral, Chief Analyst at LightCounting Market Research.

We maintain our view that Japan’s RAN market is vibrant and looking up, shifting from strong 4G rollouts in 2021 and 2022 to significant 5G deployments this year. Our model is based on Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) 5G roadmap that points to a surge this year, followed by a huge drop starting in 2024. According to the MIC’s long-term plan, the RAN market is expected to bounce back in 2026 and by 2028, open vRAN 5G BTS will account for more than 80% of the total footprint.

Our major findings in the report are:

  • After an already strong 2021, 2022 saw another surge in 4G deployments, which started to slow down in 2H22.
  • The Rakuten effect has brought a large variety of vendors to the Japanese ecosystem, which prompted NTT docomo to promote its OREX initiative.
  • Overall, Japan’s approach to disaggregation is tactical and pragmatic while also aggressive.
  • After a weak 2022, we maintain our view that 2023 is shaping up as a big 5G ramp up year.
  • Driven by Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, our near-term RAN forecast points to a bump followed by a fall until the next cycle kicks in by the end of the 5-year forecast period.

About the report: Japan Wireless Infrastructure Report focuses on Japan’s wireless infrastructure market and analyzes the implications of the introduction of Rakuten Mobile and the Japanese government’s open RAN push. The publication date is scheduled a few weeks after the 4 services providers (KDDI, NTT docomo, Rakuten Mobile, and Softbank) provide their financial reports so that we can gather many details about 2022 and provide a 2023 outlook, a 5-year RAN forecast, and a capex outlook. This report also includes subscriber and base station (BTS) numbers and RAN vendor market shares and analysis.

The report and accompanying spreadsheet with forecast details are available for download by LightCounting clients. 

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