Events

“Rakuten is our trusted partner”: 1&1 Mobilfunk CEO Michael Martin at MWC Barcelona 2024

By
James Dartnell
Corporate Communications Director - Europe, Middle East and Africa
Rakuten Symphony
March 26, 2024
6
minute read
MWC attendees were treated to a showcase of telecom’s future in Barcelona last month. Rakuten hosted 1&1 Mobilfunk CEO Michael Martin for a fireside chat with Rakuten Symphony Chief Business Officer Rabih Dabboussi, where the leaders discussed Rakuten’s role in designing, deploying and operating Europe’s most modern mobile network, and how its open architecture has laid the foundations for edge-powered experiences and superior performance.

The commercial service launch of 1&1’s mobile network in Germany represented an industry milestone. When Europe’s first commercial-scale open radio access network became fully functional, 1&1’s status as a pioneer in German mobile communications was cemented, and the world’s eyes were opened to what was possible in telecom. 

In a panel discussion at the Rakuten booth during MWC moderated by Roy Chua from AvidThink, 1&1 Mobilfunk CEO Michael Martin joined Rakuten Symphony Chief Business Officer Rabih Dabboussi at the Rakuten booth for a wide-reaching conversation on the challenges and opportunities that await 1&1.

"Open RAN is not a problem - it’s the solution."

Michael Martin expressed his satisfaction with Rakuten’s role in deploying 1&1’s mobile network and the performance levels that have been achieved since the network became fully functional on December 8, 2023. 1&1 is now in the process of transitioning its 12 million MVNO customers onto its mobile network, with 200,000 customers being migrated every week.  

“By combining the expertise of 1&1 with Rakuten's pioneering innovation, our dedication lies in providing incomparable value and effortlessly seamless experiences to our customers."
- Michael Martin, CEO 1&1 Mobilfunk

“I'm very happy now,” he said. “Our mobile network has been very stable so far and is performing well. Building a network at this speed would not have been possible with legacy technology. One misconception I’d like to clear up: Open RAN is not a problem - it’s the solution. Our diverse partners and ecosystem have brought us new possibilities. We are not permanently bound to any partner or vendor. If there is a new partner that can offer better technology, we have the option of exploring it and adopting it in the future. I can take the best technology that’s out there. 

“We don’t just have one legacy partner. We now have more than 80 partners that need to be orchestrated and aligned - Rakuten is doing that in the main part of our network. I am happy about the partnership with Rakuten, as they are doing the integration. By combining the expertise of 1&1 with Rakuten's pioneering innovation, our dedication lies in providing incomparable value and effortlessly seamless experiences to our customers. It's always a common effort and approach and we are basically working as one company in a vivid ecosystem. It's a partnership.”

1&1 Mobilfunk CEO Michael Martin shares his take on the operator’s partnership with Rakuten
1&1 Mobilfunk CEO Michael Martin shares his take on the operator’s partnership with Rakuten.

Michael Martin emphasized how Open RAN is allowing 1&1 to customize and enhance its network through software, streamlining network operations in the process. “The speed of fixing issues is already impressive, especially when compared to my past where everything was bound to hardware and replacements took months,” he said. “We’ve never had any issues like that because it's all standard hardware here. That's been a major positive learning. I can also say that I haven’t had any negative learning from the experience so far.”

“1&1’s network is a building block of smaller pieces of tech that helps us address issues as well as customer demands and business strategies.”
- Rabih Dabboussi, Chief Business Officer, Rakuten Symphony

Rabih Dabboussi, Rakuten Symphony’s Chief Business Officer, then took to the floor and underlined how Rakuten’s MWC Barcelona 2024 theme ‘Telecom Reinvented’ went beyond a mere maxim, holding a deeper meaning for a company that has innovation in its DNA. 

“They are not just words on a wall,” he said. “We believe the telco industry has needed the level of transformation and courage shown by 1&1 for a very long time. Humanity has gone through improvements in every aspect of life from the moment we existed. We've seen it in utilities and energy, we've seen it in transportation, we've seen it in tech - that transformation from a distributed data center to a centralized approach offered as a service. 

“1&1’s network is a building block of smaller pieces of tech that helps us to address challenges and issues as well as customer demands and business strategies. You need differentiation. You've got to challenge yourself to do better on performance, service assurance and on customer experience. That flexibility is what gives a mobile operator an advantage. It gives them faster time to market, a lower barrier of entry and the ability to leverage standard, open technology - COTS hardware, open virtualized systems, standard Linux operating systems, Kubernetes, containerization and network functions. If we have a challenge in any component, we try to fix it. If we can’t fix it, we replace it.”

The session gathered wide-reaching interest from telecom industry experts
The session gathered wide-reaching interest from telecom industry experts.

Different by design 

The conversation moved on to 1&1’s “unique” network architecture, which features base stations that are all connected with fiber, while it is building more than 500 regional ‘far-edge' data centers that host BBU functionalities on COTS hardware. “Our antennas are never more than 10 kilometers away from a far-edge data center,” Martin said. “That ensures latency of 3 milliseconds for service that is deployed in the distributed unit, offering the potential to deploy additional services in far-edge data centers as the need arises. Our architecture allows us to distribute a broad range of applications to the edge of the network, a model that wouldn’t have been possible in a legacy environment.” 

Dabboussi stressed how this network architecture has exposed the limitations of legacy networks. “We are tired of environments that are extremely expensive and limited to a handful of suppliers around the world,” he said. “These environments are etched in stone, reliant on big, monolithic hardware and requiring a forklift throw-out and upgrade in every generation that you deploy. That has to change. 1&1’s architecture is built on open technologies, from hardware infrastructure, transport, the applications that serve customers, for messaging, security. All of them become software elements that are so small that you can always expand them. This gives 1&1 elasticity. We have the ability to go and fix problems through an open system. We have a community of more than 80 partners in the network, and they are all as hungry as we are. We come from the same culture, the same mentality.”

The cutting edge

Moderator Roy Chua rounded off the discussion by probing the panelists on the potential use cases for 1&1’s network - and Martin highlighted how the edge architecture would remove the performance barriers previously associated with geography in the future. “Content can be hosted at a base station at a regional data center close to wherever a user is at a particular point in time,” he said. “If I go to Munich, the network recognizes that I’m in Munich and my content is already at the regional data center for whatever use case you might think of. Using the edge directly creates a much better customer experience.”

“In terms of digital services and experiences, the sky's the limit with this architecture,” Dabboussi said. “It allows services to be pushed to the edge at a performance level that is unheard of. Think of gaming and trading with ultra-low latency. You could work magic. There are so many use cases that will evolve. With this advanced open architecture, imagine the experience that we will be going through in 10 years from now 20 years from now. But the ecosystem has to grow first.” 

Chief Business Officer Rabih Dabboussi shares his insight on 1&1’s impressive progress.
Chief Business Officer Rabih Dabboussi shares his insight on 1&1’s impressive progress.
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