Miro Salem is Global Head of AI and Autonomous Networks at Rakuten Symphony. A pioneer in the implementation of AI and automation in the telecom industry, Miro and his team are working to prepare operators around the world for an autonomous future.
We sat down with the Silicon Valley-based innovator to learn about his career journey, his vision of building a brain that will run all the networks in the world and why democratizing the telecom space is personal for him.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Egypt. I had a very supportive mother who told me, “Miro, you can do anything you want to in life, as long as you are either an engineer or a doctor,” leaving me with two career choices.
My love for computers started with me playing with my brother on Bulletin Board System (BBS), using an old Windows computer. I used to put computers together, read magazines about technology and code websites in HTML and Java script back in the days when the internet had just come out.
I lived in Hungary for a year when I was 15. During this time, I was first introduced to Google and was fascinated with their minimalist approach. They had nothing on their page apart from the search bar. At that time, I really did not understand the concepts of UI and UX. All I knew was that there was something brilliant about how they were so simple and yet so effective. I looked up where Google was located and saw that they were based in Palo Alto, California. I knew that I had to go to Palo Alto, to Google.
Couple of years later, I reached America. However, I was not in Palo Alto but Utah.
“Having people from different backgrounds is an essential part of design thinking. Something fascinating happens when you put, for example, a marketing person and an engineer in the same room and you ask them to solve a problem and they approach it from completely different perspectives.”
I landed in a small town called Ephraim, studying at Snow College. After one year, I moved to the University of Texas at Dallas to study Electrical Engineering. During my last semester, I was introduced to wireless networks. We were learning about a technology called AMPS and I was fascinated by the wireless world. Being able to control networks without any wires was super interesting to me.
How did you end up at Rakuten?
My first job in the industry was being a drive tester. Drive testing involves connecting a phone to a laptop and driving around collecting data about signal strength and performance of the network. It was a tedious job which I did for eight months and didn’t enjoy at all. Thankfully, things got more exciting from there.
After that, I worked at Ericsson, doing a variety of jobs related to network operations. I did pre-launch tuning, post-launch optimization, launched the world’s first-ever LTE networks.
While working at Ericsson on a project in 2013, I felt that we could benefit from machine learning or AI to make work easier and more efficient. The initiative was promising, and helped me realize that I needed to branch out and start my own venture if I was going to fully explore my interests around the power of autonomous networks.
I started a company called 3TEN8 (3x10 to the power of eight meters per second: the speed of light). I had a vision to build a brain that would operate all networks around the world, focusing on building and optimizing network intelligence – an important differentiator for companies in the industry. We were awarded the number one AI startup in the telecommunication industry. We had great success on technology, product and value proposition. Where we struggled however, was sales due to the long sales cycle in telco.
Eventually, I met [Rakuten Symphony CEO] Tareq. He shared my vision and wanted me to continue it at Rakuten. He explained his ambitions to transform the industry, which aligned with mine and I joined. Today I lead AI and Autonomous Networks for Rakuten with the objective to create the world's first autonomous telecom network; and we are on our way to getting there, with democratization of data, AI and use cases.
What do you enjoy most about your work?
I love that my work is fulfilling the vision I set for myself many years ago. Now, I have access to more resources and I am working with many passionate and driven people. Additionally, it is great to work with leaders like Tareq and [Rakuten Group Chairman & CEO] Mickey [Mikitani], who don’t put any limits on me and are not afraid to change the rules of the industry.
“I want to reduce barrier to entry for startups and empower innovative companies to become highly successful. I think Rakuten Symphony is paving the way to creating a healthy ecosystem of innovation.”
I also have a very diverse team, with people from engineering, marketing, PR, UI, UX, research and other areas of expertise. Having people from different backgrounds is an essential part of design thinking. Something fascinating happens when you put, for example, a marketing person and an engineer in the same room and you ask them to solve a problem and they approach it from completely different perspectives. I feel like I'm part of a startup inside Rakuten and I love that about my work.
What are some of your interests outside work?
I like horse riding and I play squash as well. I also occasionally read books that are of interest to me. I used to practice Taekwondo as well. Apart from work, my 8 month-old keeps me quite occupied.
Is there any goal or objective that you have set yourself for the near future?
For many years this industry has been held back. It's been stagnant. With so many consolidations, less and less players can compete. It’s something I experienced as a founder and it’s something I still see today.
It’s kind of like an environmental ecosystem. If more and more organisms start disappearing, you cannot maintain a healthy ecosystem.
Well, I want to create a diverse and healthy telco ecosystem where there are many players. I want to reduce barrier to entry for startups and empower innovative companies to become highly successful. I think Rakuten Symphony is paving the way to creating a healthy ecosystem of innovation.
Interested in joining us on our journey to reimagine telecom, see our current job postings here.