- We interviewed Alok Shah, vice president of network strategy, business development and marketing for Samsung Electronics America.
- He discussed Samsung’s motivation to increase its share of the telecom equipment market and why Samsung supports O-RAN.
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We spoke with Alok Shah, vice president of network strategy, business development and marketing for Samsung Electronics America. Alok discussed Samsung’s motivation to increase its share of the telecommunications equipment market, the competitive advantage Samsung is getting from its foundry business, and why Samsung is supporting O-RAN.
In 2018, Samsung publicly set a goal of capturing 20% of the global 5G equipment market by 2021 – in September, it has 13% of the market, according to Dell’Oro estimates cited by the Wall Street Journal.
The following has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Insider Intelligence (II): Samsung has set aggressive targets to increase its market share in the telecommunications equipment industry. Why has Samsung identified this as a target growth area, given that it is generally not seen as an attractive industry?
Alok Shah (AS): I believe Samsung has the opportunity to impact every part of the mobile value chain with end-to-end systems. We believe there is value that comes from understanding everything from the chips that go into our products, to consumer preferences and interests. The network infrastructure space is where we think we have a lot to add and our customers really want us to be in the space. I think this is one of the biggest growth opportunities for Samsung Electronics as a whole.
Our foundry business also helps us to be the first to bring new technologies and features to market. In 2018, for example, we were a launch partner with Verizon for their 5G home service. … We were able to take care of what Verizon needed because we could build the chipset for that pre-standard 5G, we could build the network equipment, and we even built the home CPE. So I think all of these pieces kind of work together.
II: Samsung has been a proponent of the O-RAN equipment standard, which is touted as a way to lower equipment costs for wireless carriers. Why is it in Samsung’s best interests as a manufacturer of telecommunications equipment to support the standard?
AS: It has a lot to do with the position of a given equipment supplier in terms of market share. Samsung is the challenger – we’ve been left out of some networks because maybe vendors with a bigger market share created this lockdown. So we believe that a level playing field benefits the strongest competitors, those with the best technology and the deepest strengths in other areas.
The other thing I’ll say, though, and this is where it gets a bit complex, is that it’s not a trivial exercise to take equipment from multiple vendors and optimize for functionality. And that’s what O-RAN promises. The specifications are just being finalized. There are some interesting points of evidence, some that Samsung has been involved in, to validate the ability to mix and match gear, but it’s still a big job for operators. If an operator wants to adopt a multi-vendor O-RAN strategy today, that’s a lot of work – it involves quite a bit of testing in the operator’s lab and it’s an ongoing process. Every time there is a software update, a new set of tests should take place.
II: Is there still room for differentiation between equipment suppliers within an O-RAN ecosystem?
AS: Performance still matters a bit. And most operators in dense metropolitan areas, where we’ll see 5G first, are heavily focused on optimizing performance. Thus, an O-RAN compatible baseband unit will always have some differentiation in the capacity that you can support in a certain volume of equipment. On the radio side, there will still be a lot of work to do to optimize receiver sensitivity, transmit power, overall capacity, number of bands supported, etc. There are many factors that will always play into performance.
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