Fewer than 200 people manage the 200,000 cells that now make up Rakuten Mobile’s world-first network in Japan — far, far less than in a traditional telco. That’s possible because of the sophisticated software Rakuten Mobile uses to optimize its network and enhance the experience of its customers in real-time.
At the Rakuten Symphony Telco Transformation Lab at MWC Barcelona 2022, Anshul Bhatt, Head of Intelligent Ops Product Strategy, demonstrated how he has full visibility into Rakuten Mobile’s network performance in any location across Japan with just a few intuitive taps on his trackpad. That software is now available to other telcos through Symworld – a new telco platform and app marketplace established by Rakuten Symphony. Bhatt explained that Symworld encompasses a set of “loosely-coupled and highly-aligned” apps, which can be used individually or in tandem to plan, deploy and operate a network, as well as handle customer care and marketing analytics.
“What I really wanted to do is democratize wireless connectivity.”
“These interconnected apps are a game changer in how we manage and operate the networks of tomorrow,” Rakuten Symphony CEO Tareq Amin told the audience at the same event. “Our big objective is a flawless experience.” For example, Symworld’s RAN Commander app is “the only tool on the planet,” noted Amin, that integrates configuration management, prediction and optimization to identity and fill gaps in mobile coverage. “The tool will assign a coverage hole…an ID. The ID has a digital workflow, and it goes to the engineer who can then do something about it.”
AT&T, which has the largest mobile network in North America,* is currently deploying Symworld’s Site Manager app to simplify the design and construction of both its fiber and wireless networks. “This collaboration will help us create velocity in our deployments, both from a fiber and mobility perspective, which is crucial at the pace that we need to move today,” said Gordon Mansfield, VP Mobility Access & Architecture at AT&T.
AT&T is also integrating some of its own intellectual property into Symworld in the form of an advanced capacity planning tool. “We’ve got to streamline operations as we move to 5G and a cloud-native architecture,” Mansfield said in Barcelona.
“Hyperscale is about running your network at extreme efficiency.”
During his demonstration, Bhatt showed how he can use the Symworld apps to easily configure any element in Rakuten Mobile’s network. But most of the time that won’t be necessary: the apps use artificial intelligence to autonomously monitor the performance of the network and address any incidents.
The Symworld suite draws on a vast amount of data, including live customer feedback, to help inform and make decisions about where to deploy additional network capacity and coverage, for example. “We embedded the real measured samples from the handsets of our customers and our engineering teams into the mix in order to create something that we call a smart network layer,” which then uses algorithms to recommend network settings that will optimize coverage, Bhatt explained.
The Symworld suite also enables Rakuten Mobile to operate its physical inventory completely digitally. “That's where the magic starts,” Bhatt said. As new equipment is installed, an app triggers an “automated zero trust provisioning workflow… to instantiate and create the clusters and then subsequently create the software that works on top of it.” In other words, an app automatically performs all the steps required to integrate the new equipment into the mobile network.
Indeed, automation pervades Symworld. Rather than tracking IP addresses manually in emails and spread sheets, Symworld includes a system that generates, allocates and tracks IP addresses automatically in line with pre-defined business rules.
“Hyperscale is about running your network at extreme efficiency,” Amin told the event. “By adopting digital workflows, Rakuten Mobile is able to activate almost 350 to 500 sites every day,” he added. “Yet the organization doesn't have the traditional business units. I don't send drive testing to these sites and send out RF (radio frequency) engineers. They autonomously come on air, plug and play: Like what you would see with Wi-Fi.”
As well as being slick and straightforward, the Symworld suite is a key plank of Rakuten’s broader drive to reduce the cost of connectivity and bring online many more people around the globe. Back in 2017, when Rakuten Group Chairman & CEO Mickey Mikitani was first contemplating deploying a mobile network, he explained that “what I really wanted to do is democratize wireless connectivity... because in Japan, the three incumbents were providing almost the same services at almost the same price, which is very, very expensive.… So, I thought it was our mission to disrupt – and to disrupt, we have to do it differently.”
*Based on comparison of carrier owned & operated networks. No AT&T on-net coverage in select countries, including Canada.