Rakuten Executives at MWC Barcelona: Origin stories, Open RAN and demystifying telco cloud

April 24, 2023
minute read

At Mobile World Congress Barcelona 2023, telecom transformation was in the air – and no where was this more apparent than at Rakuten's special Mobile as a Software™ theater show.

Senior execs took to the dais to share data-driven insights and viewpoints on the industry, while voicing an imperative for operators to adopt Mobile as a Software, a mindset that embraces disaggregation and softwarization for further profitability and growth.

If you missed these illuminating sessions live, we have you covered. Below you can access full video recordings along with a brief summary of each.

Rakuten’s “largest and most meaningful disruption”

As a long-established internet services leader, why did Rakuten take the jump into launching Japan's fourth major mobile network?

In a headlining keynote address, Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten Group noted that founding Rakuten Mobile gave the company the opportunity to take on its “largest and most meaningful disruption” to date – transforming the entire telecom industry.

Mikitani founded Rakuten in 1997 with just six employees. Today the company operates around the world, with a record-high consolidated revenue of 1.9 trillion yen announced on the company's 2022 Full Year financial results and is a pioneer in several market positions, including e-commerce, credit card, online brokerage, bank and online travel.

The addition of a mobile network operation to the existing ecosystem has shown critical value and fast growth. What makes Rakuten Mobile so disruptive is its use of Mobile as a Software architecture and the opportunity to build the world’s most efficient network that keeps costs low to give back to the consumer.

According to Mikitani, Rakuten was “just naive enough to try” to deploy the world's first-ever nationwide Open RAN system. The company adopted a “run and fix” mentality to tackle challenges and now has a network that will soon cover more than 99% of the population of Japan.

The world needs disruptors

In his keynote, Tareq Amin, Co-CEO of Rakuten Mobile and CEO of Rakuten Symphony discussed the passion and commitment that went into building Rakuten Mobile’s nationwide Open RAN system. But, before the “nationwide network,” there was another proposition. Amin shared that an original pitch included a plan to build half the network with legacy equipment and the other with Open RAN – with an intention to protect Rakuten in case the Open Ran architecture didn’t work.

Instead, Amin and Mikitani came to an agreement to go all in with Open RAN. There was “no plan B” even when the industry called them crazy.

Globally, Rakuten Symphony has more than 300,000 radiating cells deployed and operates the world’s largest edge data center network with over 4,600 servers. The network costs less, offers better energy savings and has the reliability needed for the “quality-obsessed” culture of consumers.

The build-out of this network is important to the industry because, since 1G in the 1980s, the fundamentals haven’t changed in how networks are engineered and built. This is contrasted with enterprise and data center networks in that same time period which have become totally virtualized and moved to standard hardware.

When Amin and the team started to build the Rakuten Mobile network, the goal was to shift every system from hardware to software. While the transition to this kind of system looks different for existing operators, Amin feels that 2023 is the year that brownfield networks will embrace this approach and go from legacy to cloud.  

Everybody's talking about Open RAN

Since MWC 2022, we've seen major changes in Open RAN technology and deployment intention; with increasing commitment across the industry. To discuss this shift and the future of Open RAN, we hosted a panel on accelerating Open RAN deployments moderated by Rakuten Symphony India CEO Naren Narayana featuring Tareq Amin, Dan Rodriguez, Intel Corporate Vice President and General Manager, Network and Edge Solutions Group and Baytec CTO John Arthur.

The session kicked off with a conversation on the long-standing partnership between Rakuten Symphony and Intel in the search for a more optimized hardware platform for Open RAN deployments. The concept of adding Open RAN acceleration functionality into a general-purpose processor was born over a coffee meeting at a Starbucks in Irvine Calif., and resulted in the Symware™ 2.0 server platform powered by 4th Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors with integrated vRAN Boost technology. Amin noted that this platform is on track to offer the lowest total cost of operation (TCO) on the market.

This server platform fits in with three concepts that define Open RAN:

  • Use of commoditized hardware
  • Extensive automation
  • Use of AI to tune and optimize virtualized radio units

These radios are one of the most complex systems in telecom to manage. However, dramatic improvements in coverage and efficiency can be had in a network with virtualized radio units tuned by AI. Rakuten Symphony has been able to update a radio nine times per day to optimize that system.

The panel also covered how Open RAN can improve conservation by reducing the energy footprint of networks and how the utilization of power manageability functions within Intel processors managed by Rakuten Symphony’s energy orchestrator software can have a positive impact on power consumption.

Why is cloud relevant in the evolution of a network?

In this panel discussion, Partha Seetala, President of Rakuten Symphony’s Cloud Business Unit moderated a conversation with key cloud partners who are focused on delivering a distributed stateful edge cloud. This edge network is important as the servers are close to where applications and consumers are generating data, offering lower latency and reducing network transport costs.

Joining Partha on the panel was Dave King, Co-Founder and Chief Revenue Officer of Denvr Dataworks, Bjoern Adamski, EMEA Representative, CIQ and Mory Lin, Vice President, IoT/Embedded and Edge Computing, Supermicro.

The discussion started with a video that showed a Denvr Dataworks AI Cloud system being delivered to a customer site. The entire data center is loaded in an 18-wheel truck bed where it can be delivered to the customer, connected and start delivering results. The system contains eight tanks, each one with 45 U of supercomputing power and consuming 150 kW per tank. It uses Rakuten Symphony’s cloud provisioning app to provide an easy interface to manage the AI Cloud.

Following the video, Adamski discussed the importance of the OS in distributed stateful edge cloud. CIQ manages the support and service for Rocky Linux, which Rakuten Symphony has committed to. He explained how working with Rakuten Symphony on Open RAN projects connected two open initiatives and provided a good exchange of information between parties.

Lin concluded the panel by acknowledging the importance of hardware, while noting how the hardware costs need to continue to decrease with improvements in power and performance to be the best solution for telecom networks. Borrowing a line from Mikitani’s keynote, Lin described Supermicro as a company that “makes the impossible possible.”  

For more on the launch of Mobile as a Software and Rakuten Symphony activities at MWC Barcelona, check this complete overview.

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