- We interviewed Alok Shah, the VP of Networks Strategy, Business Development & Marketing for Samsung Electronics America.
- He discussed Samsung’s motivation for growing telecoms equipment market share and why Samsung supports O-RAN.
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We spoke with Alok Shah, the VP of Networks Strategy, Business Development & Marketing for Samsung Electronics America. Alok discussed Samsung’s motivation for growing telecoms equipment market share, the competitive advantage Samsung derives from its foundry business, and why Samsung supports O-RAN.
In 2018, Samsung publicly set a goal of capturing 20% of the global 5G equipment market by 2021—as of September, it holds a 13% share 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 grow market share in the telecom equipment sector. Why has Samsung identified this as a target growth area, given how it isn’t generally seen as an attractive industry?
Alok Shah (AS): I think Samsung has an opportunity to impact every part of the mobile value chain with end-to-end systems. We believe there’s value that comes from understanding everything from the chips that go into our products, all the way to consumer preferences and interests. The network infrastructure space is one where we think we have a lot to add and our customers really want us to be in the space. I think it’s one of the biggest growth opportunities for Samsung Electronics overall.
Our foundry business also helps us be first to market with new technologies and features. Back in 2018, for example, we were a launch partner with Verizon for their 5G home service. … We were able to support 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 those pieces kind of work in concert.
II: Samsung has been a proponent of the O-RAN equipment standard, which is being touted as a way to reduce equipment costs for wireless carriers. Why is it in Samsung’s interest as a telecom equipment-maker to support the standard?
AS: It has a lot to do with where a given equipment vendor is in terms of market share. Samsung is the challenger—we’ve been locked out of some networks, because perhaps vendors with larger market share have created that lock-in. So we think a level playing field benefits the strongest competitors, the ones 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 little bit complex—is that it’s not a trivial exercise to take equipment from multiple vendors and optimize the functionality. And that’s what O-RAN is promising. The specifications are just being completed. There are some interesting proof points, some of which Samsung has been involved in, to validate the ability to mix and match equipment, but it’s still a heavy lift on the part of operators. If an operator wants to adopt a multivendor O-RAN strategy today, it’s a lot of work—it involves quite a bit of testing at the operator lab and it’s an ongoing process. Every time there’s a software update, there’s a new set of testing that has to take place.
II: Is there still room for differentiation between equipment vendors within an O-RAN ecosystem?
AS: Performance still matters quite a bit. And most operators in dense metro areas, where we’re going to see 5G first, have a very strong focus on performance optimization. So an O-RAN-compliant baseband unit is still going to have some differentiation in how much capacity you can support within a certain volume of gear. On the radio side, there’s still going to be a lot that goes into optimizing receiver sensitivity, transmit power, overall capacity, the number of supported bands, and so on. There are quite a few factors that will still play into performance.
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