The software platform makes good on its promise to address ‘brownfield’ markets as well as new builds
At a press conference on Valentine’s Day, Rakuten Symphony announced it will open R&D facilities in France, Germany and the UK as the software and platform division born of Rakuten Mobile hopes to seize Open RAN and other opportunities in Europe.
Rakuten Symphony’s CEO and Rakuten Mobile’s CTO, Tareq Amin (pictured), said the UK R&D effort would be on 4G and 5G virtualised RAN software and hardware development, and will involve Altiostar Networks.
The French R&D unit will work to expand local adoption of Rakuten Symphony’s products and services, while the German R&D branch it will manage local projects.
Rakuten Symphony won a contract with 1&1 in Germany last August to help the new entrant build “build Europe’s first virtualised mobile network” after 1&1 secured spectrum for 5G. It has also worked closely with Telefonica Group, which is currently rolling out Open RAN in Germany – see below.
At the same press event, Rakuten Symphony also announced Symworld, an open source app store – in other words, it has packaged and productised aspects of its Rakuten Communications Platform to encourage their take-up.
From the main point to the proof
The RCP was originally developed to build Rakuten Mobile’s infrastructure in Japan, widely hailed as the world’s first native cloud-based telecommunications network, designed to disrupt the market by having massively lower operating costs.
Now Rakuten Mobile is positioned almost as a living lab that proves the concept works and to help sales of Rakuten Symphony’s expertise, software and tooling, including the RCP, to network operators around the world.
Rakuten Mobile then Rakuten Symphony have also worked closely with Enrique Blanco, Global CTIO at Telefonica. Amin said, “I want to really, really give Enrique, Group CTIO of Telefonica, a huge credit for taking a step forward to work with Symphony, not in a lab environment [but] in a commercial environment across five markets to go validate all the hypotheses that we are talking about.
“For me, this is vital, having one brownfield we know – I recognise completely that this is absolutely essential. At the same time, the Symphony journey is not just about Open Ran, I could tell you today, Telefonica in certain markets are already consuming some of our OSS products.”
In his interview with Mobile Europe last year, after winning the Gamechanger CTO of the Year Award 2021, Blanco said, “The Open RAN approach is extremely close to being done. We’ve done the same with software that manages FTTH, but OSS is much more complex to solve. It is one of the most significant pieces of this extraordinary puzzle”.
At the press conference, Amin added, “There is also a massive #Tier1 that I hope we can announce at MWC if all goes well…[that] has selected Rakuten Symphony for certain parts of their automation platforms. So we are making progress in the brownfield game. I am really, really super optimistic that Telefonica could be the breakthrough that everybody is looking for.
It is working with DISH Network in the US.
Symworld will initially offer its own services but will later open the store to third-party apps.
The RAN developments outlined above were announced at the same time as Rakuten Mobile published its Q4 results. Its operating loss rose to 54.9% year-on-year during the quarter to JPY 118.7 billion (€905 million) although revenues were JPY65.3 billion, up 47.8%.
Perhaps most encouragingly, Rakuten Symphony contributed to its parent company’s top-line in Q4, while Rakuten Mobile also reported growing customer migration and growing device sales.
Mickey (Hiroshi) Mikitani, Founder, Chairman and CEO of the Rakuten Group told the online press and analyst conference he expects network investments to peak during the current quarter and that losses will begin to decline from Q2.
Rakuten Mobile ended 2021 with 4.5 million mobile customers in Japan, an increase of 30.4%. It claims to cover 96% of the population, using 200,000 cell sites. The operator also claims its unique blend of virtualisation technology, automation and operational processes reduced capital costs by 40% versus established mobile network deployments.
The current VP of RAN at Rakuten Mobile, Sharad Sriwastawa, will take over the role of CTO at the operator, freeing Amin take to focus on Symphony.