Spotlight on Tech

What does Mobile as a Software™ mean for the future of telecom? We asked Rakuten Symphony execs

March 29, 2023
minute read

For some MNOs, embracing Mobile as a Software™ feels like risky business.  

Yes, this approach upends decades of hardened processes around hardware-based network development. It requires new skills and strategies. And it happens just as MNOs balance the financial over-promise of 5G with the actual market realities observed.  

By every financial measure, telecom is underperforming and in managed decline. Continuing to build status quo networks that don’t reduce operating and capital costs or provide agile service provisioning and a competitive ecosystem ultimately presents a losing proposition.  

When it comes to such change, showing the future is easier than explaining it. At MWC Barcelona, we showed Mobile as a Software in action in our booth and during our partner programme session. Products, partners, case studies, product demonstrations, educational sessions - it was all in the name of bringing this transformational concept to life.

After the show, three of our business leaders offered perspectives on what Mobile as a Software means to the future telecom and why its important to get started today. Following are thoughts from:  

  • Geoff Hollingworth, Chief Marketing Officer, Rakuten Symphony 
  • Naren Narayana, CEO, Rakuten Symphony India
  • Partha Seetala, President of the Cloud Business Unit, Rakuten Symphony

Mobile as a Software: Executive Q&A Edition

What does Mobile as a Software mean to you?

NAREN: I consider Mobile as a Software solutions to have three pillars: Open RAN, edge cloud and automation. Open RAN offers drastically lower capex and can also use automation to drive down opex. The edge cloud is vital because it makes services scalable and agile. Automation, for us, is all encompassing, starting with network planning through to buildout, operation and governing. We see automation as a horizontal layer that spans platform infrastructure, cloud, Open RAN, operations and ecosystem applications.

Naren Narayana presenting during Rakuten Symphony "Introducing Mobile as a Software" partner programme session at MWC 2023

PARTHA: I look at the problem from a cloud perspective. The phrase, “software is eating the world” may be an old-fashioned statement in data centers because the concept is embraced completely in the enterprise space. But it is not as well accepted in the telco space, and I think we need to make the case for why telcos are ready. From an economic perspective, costs are eating telcos alive, competition is stiff, and consumers want more data and services for the same prices – or even less. In order to save their bottom lines, telcos have to essentially figure out how they cut costs or develop new revenue streams. Moving to software is the only way to cut costs without impacting service quality. There is no other way.

What is the top challenge of moving to Mobile as a Software?

NAREN: Brownfield operators are getting a lot of push from vendors telling them that they should automate everything right away. I think that’s an extremely wrong approach and that's not what we are doing as a company. I encourage operators to start with the biggest problem area and apply software and automation to that area. I advise customers to try our governance product which has automated service desk capabilities. The moment they deploy this they get a much better understanding of their network faults and performance issues. Once they know where the real problems are we can work together on applying automated solutions where they are needed most.  

PARTHA: I have a controversial opinion on the use of public cloud by MNOs. I come from a non-telco background and so I look at the problem statement from a slightly different perspective. What I see is that MNOs see cost savings by turning to the public cloud, but in fact, they are turning over the core of their business to hyperscalers.

I think that MNOs have only three important assets – their network, subscribers and spectrum. For an operator to be competitive and profitable, it must recognize its core assets and optimize to own and manage them efficiently. By giving up network assets to hyperscalers, MNOs lose the ability to exploit organic knowledge and optimize and leverage that knowledge to offer additional services.

After managing an MNO's network for several years, the death spiral begins. The hyperscalers have critical knowledge about operating a mobile network and have the assets to buy spectrum from the financially depleted MNOs. Hyperscalers tap into their vast customer databases to offer their own services.  

Partha Seetala leading a panel during Rakuten Symphony "Introducing Mobile as a Software" partner programme session at MWC 2023

GEOFF: Along these lines, MNOs have almost completely outsourced their actual network design to third party telecom equipment vendors, and they are now being held ransom to those existing models of engagement and execution. They need to reinvest to design their end-to-end network and business system for the future. The benefit of Mobile as a Software is that they can outsource the constituent elements, but they maintain control over the overall system design. Vendors conform to this design rather than to their own. This is easy to do in modern software and is the approach taken by Rakuten Mobile in Japan.

Why trust Rakuten Symphony for Mobile as a Software?

NAREN: I think people should trust Rakuten Symphony because we have Rakuten Mobile as a live network example of what we can do. Rakuten Mobile comes with all of the KPIs and data that supports the network. So, we get to see firsthand what an operator network team sees. Like other vendors, we can talk about our technology and our automation advantages and how we have built all these great products, but we also have an operator with millions of customers that are using all of our products, and we have the numbers to prove it.

PARTHA: I want to build on Naren’s answer with an example of the reason Amazon became widely successful in the public cloud business. Obviously, the company did a great job executing on its business plan, but they had one inherent advantage that others did not: Amazon had its own e-commerce shop, which meant they had the same set of problems that other fast-growth enterprises have. That is, the constant need for compute, networking and storage capacity. As they developed their internal cloud they added software programmability to minimize the number of people managing their system. So, they learned from their own internal operation, and as a result of that they got better at knowing exactly what type of services their customers would want. I think the same thing happens with Rakuten Symphony.

GEOFF:  Modern successful technology leaders consume what they make, and then they sell it. This seems to be a pattern, and we are the only people in telecom that are doing that with this new approach. The difference between being a vendor and an operator is night and day. You can't believe the gaps that exist in vendor products that don’t have this experience.

Geoff Hollingworth presenting during Rakuten Symphony "Introducing Mobile as a Software" partner programme session at MWC 2023


Mobile as a Software is the best way for MNOs to restructure networks to face the financial and operational challenges they face. As a supplier to the Rakuten Mobile network, Rakuten Symphony has insight into partnering with MNOs to build effective Mobile as a Software solutions.  

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