Rakutan is Building the World’s First End-To-End, Fully Virtualized, Container-Based Cloud Native 5G Network.
Mobile networks to date have been dependent on dedicated hardware. Rakuten Mobile has taken a different approach, utilizing virtualization technologies to disaggregate network hardware and software. The network runs on general purpose hardware, which has enabled dramatic cost reductions.
They have also launched Symphony, a new business unit to sell this expertise and technology to other operators, further fleshing out the portfolio through acquisitions such as buying Cloud tech startup Robin.io.
Cloud Native Network – From Vision to Reality
Speaking at the 5G Malaysia International Conference 2020, Tareq Amin, Chief Technology Officer at Rakuten Group and Rakuten Symphony CEO, delivered this keynote presentation, Cloud Native Network – From Vision to Reality, where he describes how they have built something fundamentally different to what has been seen traditionally in the telecommunications sector, and how Cloud will make it irrelevant.
He believes the sector is stagnant and long overdue for disruption, and has a deep passion for how telecommunications has the potential to progress humanity.
The primary issue he sees is that each major evolution of telco platforms requires a ‘forklift’ upgrade, a replacing of old vendor hardware boxes with new ones. The industry lags the digital innovators like Facebook and Amazon primarily because of a legacy mindset, not technology limitations.
He doesn’t believe the performance requirements of telco services prevent them from being moved to the Cloud, citing the example of how Facebook has been providing their own messaging and video services this way for ten years.
Therefore his vision for Rakutan was to embrace this new digital innovation mindset and build the world’s first mobile operator that employed an end-to-end software-based telco platform, run entirely on commodity hardware.
From 9m:50s he provides an overview of the Rakutan Cloud Native architecture, and how they virtualized the many different component parts. Major features include over 280 5G edge data centres, because Tareq believes latency not bandwidth is the critical success factor.
At 13m:10s he zooms in on the radio access points. This is crucial from an economics point of view, and so Tareq optimized their model so that they could do an entire macro base station deployment in eight minutes versus two days, via a simplified plug and play approach. He avoided costly field operations by instead investing in software developers who could automate the maintenance, and believes Open RAN is pivotal to their efficiency here.
From 19m:05s he moves on to data centres. The entire network is built on six standardized hardware types, regular IT servers, and at 19m:40s he dovetails this into a summary of the business model, describing the vastly simplified and reduced cost structure for operating a Cloud Native telco:
- RAN – 30% CAPEX and 40% OPEX savings. No single point of failure on site.
- Data centre and mobile edge – 30% OPEX savings and near zero latency.
- Common hardware SKUs – 25% OPEX savings from common and reusable hardware.
- Infrastructure and service automation – 70% OPEX savings from zero touch provisioning.
From 24m:35s he concludes by sharing his vision of the potential for 5G, how it will enable a vast portfolio of innovations ranging from smart cities through video and augmented reality.
Technology and Vendor Innovations
It’s not that he believes the Cloud providers are all dominating. For example he believes AWS is years behind in running Cloud mobile networks and will not be able to match the cost efficiencies of Rakutan, that their strength is in running huge enterprise IT workloads and they lacked the expertise in handling the “uniqueness in the radio domain that has never existed in a typical IT workload.”
Vendor partners have been key to realizing the Rakuten vision, indeed STL argues to too much of a degree, that while yes the network is built using microservices and containers, these are tied to proprietary vendor solutions and so the ideal of vendor neutrality and portability isn’t completely achieved.
The vendor landscape includes deals with Cisco to utilize their ACI network to build one of the largest data center fabrics in the world, digitizing the customer journey using Thales’ secure embedded SIM expertise, the inclusion of all Nokia cloud-native Core software on Rakuten Symphony’s Symworld marketplace, and a partnership with NEC to promote Open RAN solutions, explained in this webinar presentation. NEC is currently providing 5G radio units for Rakuten mobile network.