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A landmark occasion for telecom: 1&1 and Rakuten launch Europe’s first Open RAN mobile services

By
December 8, 2023
4
minute read

Two years ago, two companies came together and made a promise to collaborate on a project they envisioned would make history. 

On August 4 2021, 1&1 and Rakuten agreed to a far-reaching partnership to build Europe's first fully virtualized mobile network based on Open RAN standards. The network functions were to be integrated by Rakuten Symphony – launched that same day by Rakuten Group – an organization with a mission to accelerate the adoption of cloud-native, Open RAN-based mobile networks worldwide, based on key learnings from building the Rakuten Mobile network in Japan. 

After just 28 months, 1&1 have launched Europe’s newest mobile network and the continent’s first and only fully virtualized 5G Open RAN mobile network.  

Left to right: Mickey Mikitani (Rakuten Group, Chairman and CEO), Daniela Schmitt (Minister for Economic Affairs, Transport, Agriculture and Viticulture of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate), Dr. Volker Wissing (Federal Minister for Digital Affairs and Transport), Ralph Dommermuth (1&1 AG, CEO) on stage celebrating the launch of 1&1's new network.
Left to right: Mickey Mikitani (Rakuten Group, Chairman and CEO), Daniela Schmitt (Minister for Economic Affairs, Transport, Agriculture and Viticulture of the State of Rhineland-Palatinate), Dr. Volker Wissing (Federal Minister for Digital Affairs and Transport), Ralph Dommermuth (1&1 AG, CEO) on stage celebrating the launch of 1&1's new network at an event in Montabaur, Germany on December 8, 2023.

Building a network of the future

Upon signing the agreement, Rakuten Symphony set out to assemble its team in Germany for 1&1. After establishing a local Rakuten Symphony entity based in Dusseldorf dedicated to the 1&1 project, the two companies brought together more than 80 vendor partners from around the world to take part in the endeavor. 

A global ecosystem of vendor partners is deployed in the 1&1 network. Unlike conventional mobile networks, 1&1 is designed on Open RAN standards, which separates software from hardware in the radio access network (RAN). The antennas in 1&1’s Open RAN environment are not controlled on-site at radio masts like in a traditional network but are software-based and run in a private cloud that 1&1 operates on commercial off-the-shelf servers in hundreds of decentralized edge data centers. 

Early returns

In addition to building a nationwide 5G network across Germany, 1&1 was also required to provide fixed wireless access (FWA) service by December 2022. FWA is similar to fixed broadband services run by 1&1, but doesn’t use the cable or fiber that runs directly to a home and connects to a modem, instead requiring a “fixed” antenna at the home that connects to the surrounding wireless infrastructure.

In July 2022—just 11 months after forming the partnership—1&1 and Rakuten celebrated initial tests of the Open RAN-based 5G network, hailing a resounding success following FWA connectivity tests with “friendly users” under “real conditions” and with “real customer behavior”. 1&1 noted that the results had surpassed expectations, achieving downstream speeds of more than 1Gbit/s and stable data transfers, with about 8 terabytes of data per customer transferred within 24 hours. 

Even more impressive, 1&1’s Michael Martin, CEO of the network business, shared at Rakuten Optimism 2022 that while testing network responsiveness with the online game Minecraft achieved three milliseconds of latency. Martin told the audience: “That’s close to the theoretical maximum you can get.”

Later that year, on December 28, 1&1 officially launched its initial FWA service to consumers in Frankfurt am Main and Karlsruhe and plans to make FWA services available in cities such as Hamburg, Essen, Düsseldorf, Wiesbaden, Mainz, Munich and Freiburg over the next few weeks.

Mickey Miktani congratulated 1&1, partners and the Rakuten team on the successful launch of Europe's first fully virtualized mobile network based on Open RAN standards.
Mickey Mikitani congratulated 1&1, partners and the Rakuten team on the successful launch of Europe's first fully virtualized mobile network based on Open RAN standards at a special launch event in Montabaur, Germany.

A dream becoming reality

Over the next 12 months, 1&1 and Rakuten worked tirelessly to continue building and testing in the run-up to the commercial service launch of the 1&1 network on December 8, 2023. At an event at the company’s headquarters in Montabaur, Germany, attended by leaders from 1&1, Rakuten and including emissaries from the governments of Germany and Japan, 1&1 switched on its modern mobile network and made it available to consumers across the country.

This is a landmark occasion for the global mobile industry. The launch of 1&1’s network, the first European cloud-native Open RAN network, represents what the future of telecom should be: cloud-native, automated and based on open interfaces.

1&1 is now a digital beacon for Europe and the global telecom industry to demonstrate the possibilities of the future of mobile networks as we fundamentally transform the telecom industry. 

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