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‘Intent-aware, programmable, sustainable': OSS President Rahul Atri’s vision for AI in telco

Rahul Atri
President, OSS Business Unit
Rakuten Symphony
February 8, 2024
minute read

Rahul Atri, Rakuten Symphony’s newly appointed President of the OSS Business Unit, outlines his vision for how artificial intelligence will advance Rakuten’s formidable track record in automation, reshaping telecom in the process.

I couldn’t be more excited to have rejoined Rakuten, an organization that’s always been ahead of its peers when it comes to innovation. Through Rakuten Mobile, Japan’s fourth operator, and Rakuten Symphony, the platform provider that is leading change in telecom, we continue to challenge preconceptions and force the industry to ask existential questions of itself.  

Rahul Atri, President OSS BU, Rakuten Symphony
Rahul Atri, President OSS BU, Rakuten Symphony

This is an incredibly exciting time for a company that is already renowned for disrupting the internet services space. Rakuten has now committed to a strategy that puts Artificial Intelligence at the centre of its business, which will enable us to increase revenue, save cost, transform organizational DNA, and deliver unique customer experiences.

"The industry always talks about buzzwords but Rakuten delivers the on-the-ground reality."

In my new role, I hope to make a significant contribution to this journey by using AI to underpin our OSS offerings within Rakuten Symphony. I hope to define, design and deliver Rakuten Symphony’s next-generation AI OSS and automation platform, with a focus on making networks intent-aware, programmable and sustainable. Here’s a quick summary of what I want us to achieve, and where I believe our greatest opportunities lie.

One step ahead, through AI

Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony have already set the standard for change within telecom. When people were talking about a single source of truth, we already had a unified OSS live on-air in production. When people were starting to aspire to using the cloud, we were already there. The same goes for automation - we had done zero-touch automation for thousands of sites when people were saying it was the ‘the next big thing’. We always deliver use cases - we always make things happen. The industry always talks about buzzwords but Rakuten delivers the on-the-ground reality.

That brings me to AI. Over the last year, it has been discussed to a dizzying degree in the global media - but with good reason. Artificial intelligence is without doubt the definitive technology trend - and one of the most important global issues -of our time. It is already changing every major industry. In the same way that Rakuten brought its vision of automation to the telco world, we now want to deliver the same impact with AI.

“Where other organizations will most likely bandwagon off of AI’s mass hype, Rakuten will build tools and platforms that can reshape telecom.”

Telecom is not the quickest at adopting cutting-edge technology. But that doesn’t matter - once again, we will continue our track record of disruption through innovation. We are excited to be working with fellow leading operators in the industry who also want to push the boundaries of what is possible.

Rakuten is now uniquely positioned to succeed amid this new technological wave. Where other organizations will most likely jump on the bandwagon of AI’s mass hype without doing anything meaningful, we will build tools and platforms that reshape telecom.

I hope to build on Rakuten’s already-strong foundations in generative AI. Rakuten has a vast data lake based on its existing ecosystem, to which e-commerce platform Rakuten Ichiba has contributed significantly. Rakuten has the data. We understand the networks. We have some AI use cases already solved in Rakuten Ichiba. Now it’s time to translate those assets into valuable solutions for telecom operators.

Understanding intent

Generally speaking, whenever a user interacts with a tool, the tool needs to become more intelligent and understand the user more and more each time. That doesn’t happen enough at the moment. We want our AI to be acutely aware of all the necessary context that it needs in order to generate sophisticated and successful outcomes. It needs to understand the user’s intent, the specific use case that it is trying to solve as well as being aware of the individual that it is supporting.

Take chatbots - they are currently very generic. We want to build a companion for each individual. We want the AI to deliver insights and contribute meaningfully to each user. Rakuten plans to deliver that in the very near future.

Our systems are always built on big data. We have all the data we have started turning the data into context-aware form, so we can talk to the data. Our tools will soon be able to give quick, accurate summaries that address a user’s initial intent, instead of giving a generic response. We are embarking on a journey to make our data context-aware, where we have AI models integrated so that once you have started talking to the data, you're making sense of it. The system needs to understand the needs of the individual.

We are now working on building a layer where the platform - powered by AI - also understands what a telco needs when managing its network.

The network of the future

When it comes to solving telecom industry problems, Rakuten Mobile provides us with an excellent use case - a network that faces similar challenges to other telcos and has been committed to automation, open interfaces and cloud-native principles since its inception. Through Rakuten Symphony, we are sharing this expertise with operators around the world. One of our biggest advantages is that we have solved many important use cases within the Rakuten Group ecosystem. Rakuten Symphony’s technology is always battle-tested via Rakuten Mobile, and this co-creation is helping us to build advanced AI use cases across the network lifecycle - plan, build and monitor - to improve delivery, efficiency and value creation.

Every operator today has started taking a stance that they want to be data-driven. That means that they have an ingestion layer - all the data that comes in is ingested into a central system. After that, you can create what is called a data product. Data products can ingest data from business systems, network systems, customer systems or any other system.

This unified depository - this data product - can answer meaningful questions, based on what each individual wants. That means that a CEO of a telco can quickly decide where to focus on improving coverage or how to make informed pricing decisions - they will not receive raw data, but recommended business outcomes.

In the meantime

Rakuten has so much potential to create meaningful change through AI. I cannot wait to take the lead on projects that will redefine how we serve customers through smarter telecom networks, as well as solving telecom’s challenges of tomorrow.

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