Spotlight on Tech

What is most important when preparing for Open RAN? A Conversation with Open RAN Pioneer Tareq Amin of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony

By
Geoff Hollingworth
Chief Marketing Officer
Rakuten Symphony
April 12, 2023
5
minute read

Executive Summary

The industry has accepted that the future is based on open interfaces and disaggregation throughout the network, especially in the radio access network, since this is the largest and most complicated part of the operation. It is important to understand the value of such open systems comes from the opportunities for large scale industrialized automation and adoption of cloud native software practices. These capabilities need to be well understood and operational before Open RAN is ready for network wide rollout. Development of these skills and processes and changes to organization should start now, to ensure the organization is fully prepared to scale out the total change when open radio units are fully available at scale.

  1. Tareq Amin's confidence in Open RAN came from previous experiences, learning the importance of automation, optimization, and disaggregation.
  2. Building an ecosystem around a new technology and convincing skeptics were some of the biggest challenges faced.
  3. Off-the-shelf processing power advancements will help overcome remaining challenges like radio unit choice maturity and component price parity.
  4. Amin and his team have consistently proven the viability of Open RAN through tangible results, achieving cost reductions, accelerated deployment timelines, and high-quality network performance.
  5. The "Mobile as a Software" approach emphasizes the need for telecom operators to change their operating models, focusing on automation and cloud technologies.

Introduction

Five years ago, Tareq Amin was called crazy for proposing to build an end-to-end cloud-native network in Japan. Now we can see it works. What gave him the confidence?

Tareq Amin, Co-CEO of Rakuten Mobile and CEO of Rakuten Symphony, and his team's groundbreaking work has pioneered Open RAN technology and revolutionized what is possible in the telecommunications industry. Here, Tareq shares the key factors that contributed to their success, the challenges they faced, and the profound impact of their achievements on the future of telecommunications.

What gave you the confidence to pursue this unproven technology?

Our confidence came from our previous experiences and proven outcomes outside the telecom industry. We learned two crucial lessons: the importance of automation and optimization, and the power of disaggregation. We realized that to manage massive-scale infrastructure, we needed to industrialize end-to-end operations. Companies like Facebook achieved this through the Open Compute Project (OCP), which democratized server designs at scale. By separating the radio access network into various components, we knew we could achieve increased automation, flexibility, and choice, leading to significant efficiencies and speed.

"Our leadership, supported by Mickey Mikitani, played a vital role in creating a commercial reality that incentivized investment and aligned business outcomes."
- Tareq Amin, Co-CEO, Rakuten Mobile and CEO, Rakuten Symphony

What were the biggest challenges you faced?

Some of the biggest challenges we faced were building an ecosystem around a new technology and convincing skeptics in the industry about its potential. We had to demonstrate the value of Open RAN through tangible results and foster collaboration among various stakeholders, including innovative young companies and established tech vendors.

A critical factor in our success was our ability to foster an ecosystem of innovative young companies and established tech vendors that believed in the potential of Open RAN. This ecosystem of "doers" grew organically, driven by the shared commitment to make the mission work. Our leadership, supported by Mickey Mikitani, played a vital role in creating a commercial reality that incentivized investment and aligned business outcomes.

What challenges remain?

There are still challenges surrounding the maturity of the radio unit choice due to the complexities of spectrum bands and aggregation worldwide. Also, reaching component price points at parity with traditional deployments requires more commitment to deployment. However, as off-the-shelf processing power continues to advance, I believe these challenges will be overcome.

What advice do you have for fellow leaders wanting to do the same as you?

"Embrace the mindset that technology is never "ready" or "complete" but continuously evolving."

My advice would be to start preparing now by adopting new skills and process development. Set clear and achievable scopes of work where people, processes and technologies can all be approached from new. Focus on changing operating models with automation and cloud technologies. Embrace the mindset that technology is never "ready" or "complete" but continuously evolving. Foster a culture of innovation and collaboration and have the courage to challenge the status quo.

What were the largest leadership challenges you faced during this journey?

The largest leadership challenges were rallying the team around a shared vision and fostering collaboration among various stakeholders. Additionally, ensuring that we stayed true to our mission and persevered in the face of skepticism required strong leadership and unwavering conviction in the belief that investments in automation, cloud and Open RAN will lead to outcomes that are not incremental but revolutionary.

How have you silenced the skeptics?

"Our achievements serve as a testament to the immense potential of Open RAN technology."

Despite the naysayers and FUD, we've consistently proven the viability of Open RAN through tangible results. We've achieved significant cost reductions, accelerated deployment timelines, and delivered high-quality network performance at scale. Our achievements serve as a testament to the immense potential of Open RAN technology.

Can you elaborate on your "Mobile as a Software" model?

The "Mobile as a Software" approach emphasizes the need for telecom operators to change their operating models, focusing on automation and cloud technologies. This mindset allows operators to harness the true power of software and maximize operational scale and efficiency. Decoupling people from the scale of operation and output is essential as complexity, density, and speed of growth continue to increase.

What do you think the future holds for Open RAN and the telecommunications industry?

"The future is bright, and we're excited to play a leading role in shaping the next chapter of telecommunications history."

Our journey in pioneering Open RAN technology has already transformed what is proven to be possible in the telecom industry. As we continue to innovate and refine the technology, I believe that the collective efforts of our team and partners will drive even greater innovation and growth within the industry. The future is bright, and we're excited to play a leading role in shaping the next chapter of telecommunications history.

Conclusion

Tareq Amin and his team's work in pioneering Open RAN technology under the guidance and support of Mickey Mikitani has already left a lasting impact on the telecommunications industry. As the industry continues to evolve, their trailblazing efforts in embracing Open RAN technology serve as an inspiring example of how bold vision, collaboration, and perseverance can lead to groundbreaking achievements and a more open, agile, and efficient telecom ecosystem.

To learn more about “Mobile as a Software” and the associated cost efficiencies alongside the increased agility and business competitiveness see here.

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