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UK government hits home run with new Open RAN principles

Nastasi Karaiskos
Managing Director, Rakuten Symphony UK
Rakuten Symphony
July 27, 2022
minute read

Telecom is not a normal industry. It builds a country’s critical communications infrastructure while innovating at the speed of the latest technology. Over the years this has shaped the industry supply chain to be limited to just a few companies and has reduced outside investment due to the closed nature of delivery.

The UK Government wants to change the status quo with its new Open RAN principles policy paper.

The policy paper recognizes that telecom networks are more important than ever thanks to the increasingly digital nature of day-to-day life.

This reliance on telecom has the UK government concerned about the state of competition among telecom equipment providers, and the resulting ability of networks — focused on 5G, but encompassing all telecom networks — to deliver next-generation services. The solution to this challenge is to ensure a competitive field of telecom equipment providers and that comes by adopting Open RAN and its open interface approach along with the large and growing ecosystem of technology providers.

The Open RAN principles paper was developed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport and was written to provide guidelines for the Open Network R&D Program, a government investment initiative designed to put up to £250 million into research and development. 

“Rakuten Symphony have been working closely with the UK Government for the past 18 months in support of their 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy.”
- Nastasi Karaiskos, Managing Director, Rakuten Symphony UK

We think this paper is good for the industry because it reflects and codifies some of the guiding principles behind Open RAN, while also leaving room for the industry to grow and evolve. Mobile network operators (MNOs) can get started now on building out a network infrastructure that meets the guidelines using Symworld™ from Rakuten Symphony. Symworld is Rakuten Symphony‘s industrialized automation platform for service providers and is currently used by Rakuten Mobile in Japan, 1&1 in Germany and AT&T in the U.S.  

In Japan, Symworld has enabled the growth of the Open RAN network to exceed 275,000 cell sites from several different radio vendors, with only 250 direct operational staff.  Rakuten Mobile proves Open RAN works at scale and in high coverage density deployments. Tokyo is one of the most densely populated metropolitan areas in the world and Rakuten Mobile has received many rewards for network quality, with umlaut showing at least parity with other networks, and in many cases exceeding the performance of traditional networks.  

Let’s take a look at how Symworld stands up to the four guiding principles put forth in the paper:

Principle 1: Open disaggregation, allowing elements of the RAN to be sourced from different suppliers and implemented in new ways.

Symworld is an automation platform and marketplace for telecom network solutions. It provides an “app store”-like environment for onboarding telecom applications and managing their lifecycle.

The foundation of Symworld is its ability to support open interfaces enabling best-in-class support for disaggregated network functions. This, combined with cloud integration, provides customers with a fully open, fully functional solution. To take advantage of this open approach, Rakuten Symphony is partnering with other leading companies—including Nokia, F5, and others—to ensure that Symworld customers have access to a diversity of market optimized solutions.

Principle 2: Standards-based compliance, allowing all suppliers to test solutions against standards in an open, neutral environment.

Rakuten Symphony has developed Symworld in response to the closed and proprietary nature of legacy RAN vendors and is committed to open industry standards as a way to reduce the costs and complexity of building and operating mobile networks. The company has been a leader in O-RAN standards development and continues to support industry standards developments for security and other capabilities through participation on standards boards and its dedication of technical resources.

Principle 3: Demonstrated interoperability, ensuring disaggregated elements work together as a fully functional system—at a minimum matching the performance and security of current solutions.

Symworld emerged from the build out of the Rakuten Mobile network in Japan, where was created to help manage the diversity of network systems to ensure interoperability. The network was built using dozens of technology vendors and the systems now known as Symworld helped to manage the complexity that came with this diversity. And it worked. Setting up 5G RAN at a Rakuten Mobile, cell site takes only four minutes. In addition, firms such as Opensignal have shown the Rakuten Mobile network performs on par or better than traditional networks around the world.

Principle 4: Implementation neutrality, allowing suppliers to innovate and differentiate on the features and performance of their products.

Symworld is vendor neutral, cloud native and standards based, which enables a transition from older systems to this new architecture. This is essential for brownfield deployments where support for existing systems is necessary, as there is not an economic or performance reason to decommission the equipment and it may take years to evolve that gear to a new architecture. We have customers that use Symworld now for just a single application. All applications come with the enabling Symworld Platform that includes the supporting cloud native, data management, AI and automation capabilities that support all applications. This should be viewed in a similar way to how an Android device from any manufacturer comes with Android horizontal support.  

“The foundation of Symworld is its ability to support open interfaces enabling best-in-class support for disaggregated network functions.”

The rest of the UK government paper is worth a read, as it goes into more details about the benefits of these principles and how to ensure security, innovation and competition. At Rakuten Symphony, we believe in these principles and developed Symworld around them because we have seen them work firsthand.

Rakuten Symphony has been working closely with the UK Government for the past 18 months in support of its 5G Supply Chain Diversification Strategy. We look forward to continuing to support their commitment to Open RAN in high demand density environments. 

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*Rakuten Mobile won Opensignal’s Upload Speed Experience and 5G Upload Speed and jointly won Voice App Experience, 5G Voice App Experience in 5G Download Speed: Opensignal Awards – Japan Mobile Network Experience Report April 2022, based on independent analysis of mobile measurements recorded during the period December 1 – February 28, 2022 © 2022 Opensignal Limited

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