Spotlight on Tech

Telecom’s tough questions: Why is now the time to build mobile networks differently?

Geoff Hollingworth
Chief Marketing Officer
Rakuten Symphony
April 21, 2022
minute read

Transforming a global industry requires more than just game-changing technology, innovative business models or visionary leadership. It requires communication.

To successfully upend the status quo, a disruptor must be able to explain the benefits of its radical approach – and take on the tough questions that result from doing things differently.

At Rakuten Symphony, we believe in our transformative vision, and we’re confident that through open communication and our “no more secrets” approach, the industry will continue to change their way of thinking as well.  

That’s why we’re introducing a new series, where we will take on telecom’s toughest questions.

A critical choice for the future of telco

If there’s one thing the mobile industry, indeed the world, has learned over the past two years, it’s that connectivity is impossible to live without – on par with electricity and water.

To live up to this increasing status as essential service providers, MNOs across the globe continue to build out the generation of their networks on a ten-year cycle – always hyping the next “G.”

For their next upgrade however, MNOs have a critical choice: stick with the legacy network approach – costly, proprietary, closed ecosystems – or choose a new one that is cloud-based, agile, open and automated.

"MNOs need a new operating model for their business that is not anchored to the past."
- Geoff Hollingworth, CMO, Rakuten Symphony

This new open approach to building networks might look risky to some, but in reality, sticking to the status quo sold by legacy vendors could saddle MNOs with a network that is too expensive and rigid for the next generation of telco. As we move into a "post G” future, flexible and simplified new service deployments are the key to success. Choose the right way and your network and services can be more competitive and more profitable.

There are three forces causing the mobile industry to rethink and resync on how it builds networks.

New Network Technologies: How MNOs can build their networks has forever changed due to cloud, edge and automation technologies. Cloud-native and open standards have impacted all network functions, allowing 5G networks to adopt cloud technologies for cost-effective and scalable compute infrastructure. Edge network expansion is driven by the exponential demand growth needing ever more increasingly intelligent network coverage. Manual management and maintenance of this cloud-based network will make it impossible to deliver service levels and new services without the automation that is needed to simplify and react to network changes.

Demand for New Services: We are living in an era where the potential for amazing new wireless services is as great as it’s ever been. Even video streaming, which is not new, is still remarkable and is driving huge quantities of wireless data throughput. Add to that augmented reality/virtual reality, autonomous cars, the internet of things, and other services not yet developed, and the business potential for mobile networks is wide open. But there’s a caveat to that opportunity – MNOs need to go after it. So far, this has been slow to develop. Bloomberg Businessweek declares that 5G has been a “$100 billion whiff,” with MNOs on the verge of repeating the 4G experience of investing in a network build-out only to see over-the-top players swoop in and steal away revenue. To avoid this, MNOs need a new operating model for their business that is not anchored to the past.

Competition: Greenfield network operators have sprung up in Germany, Japan and the U.S. and are in position to use their lower cost infrastructure to put pressure on service prices across the industry. That’s what is happening in Japan, where the Rakuten Mobile service is the first greenfield network to operate an open-standard, virtualized network. The company was able to launch with a simple, single, low-cost unlimited data plan with pricing that varied depending on data usage. This has caused competitors to cut their prices, with Japanese smartphone fees dropping by around 60% after Rakuten Mobile’s entry into the market. The choice of the right network can provide the margin that MNOs need to stay profitable in this environment.

"The time is now to deliver the world’s most advanced networks, in accelerated timeframes, yet at much lower cost to plan, build and operate."

For these reasons and more, now is the time for a change. Now is the time to build networks in a new way based on open principles with better operational efficiency and engineered to be even more reliable than a proprietary network. Rakuten Symphony has captured all of these benefits, along with an ecosystem of applications in the industry’s pioneering platform: Symworld.

Symworld: It’s about time

The Symworld platform includes 70 applications from Rakuten Symphony in addition to partner applications from our rapidly growing ecosystem. These include 5G core, Open RAN software, RAN intelligent controller (RIC), service assurance, security and customer experience management and more.

During MWC 2022 in Barcelona, Rakuten Symphony added to its ecosystem with the announcement of Nokia adding its cloud-native core software to the Symworld marketplace.  In addition, Cisco and Rakuten Symphony signed a strategic agreement to validate and certify their combined solutions for operators worldwide. And most recently we announced the addition of F5.

All of these applications and cloud native functions will live in the cloud where, for the first time, MNOs will be able to deploy new networks remotely and dial up new levels of capacity or services according to their subscriber needs.

"If there’s one thing the mobile industry, indeed the world, has learned over the past two years, it’s that connectivity is impossible to live without – on par with electricity and water."

Automation of the network is critical for deploying next generation services on cloud and edge infrastructures. Symworld offers automation across all the facets of telecom functions from planning to building, to operation and to support. The benefit is seamless scaling and maintenance of the network.

MNOs can use Symworld to evaluate, trial or deploy a network, with all of the network functions required for success.

The cost effectiveness of the network is based on using commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) server hardware and Rakuten Symphony has developed Symware to provide hardware that is designed with the performance needed for advanced 5G networks, while offering it via an innovative subscription model. Once installed, Symware self-provisions in minutes and has built in zero touch provisioning that allows remote and automated maintenance.

Building next-gen networks

There is a new way to build the network of the future – a network that is less expensive, higher performance, open and agile. But it requires a break from the past and an embrace of new technology and network architectures. The benefits are significant and include delivering reliable and high performing services, while also giving MNOs a platform for profitable innovation.

If mobile networks have, in fact, reached essential status, that mandates that these networks be always on, always reliable and always fast. The time is now to deliver the world’s most advanced networks, in accelerated timeframes, yet at much lower cost to plan, build and operate.

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