With lightning-quick speeds and barely detectable latency, fifth-generation mobile networks (5G) will transform many industries, changing society as a whole for the better, Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani told attendees at Rakuten Optimism 2019. Ahead of the approaching launch of 5G services in Japan, 5G was a major focus of the four-day event. Mikitani used his opening keynote address to reflect on how far internet and communications services have come since Rakuten’s foundation in 1997.
“Over the past 20 years, the evolution of the internet has seen speeds increase by 1,000-fold,” said Mikitani. “Now we’re evolving into 5G and it’s going to be another 1,000-fold growth, which means 1 million times growth in internet bandwidth compared to when we first began Rakuten. It’s like evolving from a rickshaw to a jet plane or bullet train.”
All aboard the 5G express
To make the most of this rapid evolution, Rakuten Mobile is building the world’s first end-to-end cloud-native, 5G-ready mobile network, set to launch in October. Instead of being built on a traditional hardware infrastructure, it will be based on software, allowing for speedy and efficient updates, as well as lower costs for users. One industry executive predicted Rakuten Mobile would fail, but months later was impressed by its rapid progress and expressed a desire to discuss the approach, shared Mikitani.
“If the iPhone was the revolutionary device that changed the vehicle we use to access the internet, Rakuten Mobile is going to revolutionize the road,” offered Mikitani. “Others want to develop 5G. We want to bring a revolution to the network.”
Where will the 5G bullet train take us? It could bring speeds as high as 1 gigabit per second, which would be up to 100 times faster than existing 4G services, with latency of only 1 millisecond or less.
Mikitani said edge servers will virtually eliminate latency in voice-recognition apps and allow smartphones to easily play video games that formerly required high-performance hardware. A high-definition, two-hour movie could be downloaded in three seconds. 5G networks, meanwhile, will help make fully autonomous vehicles a reality within 10 years, potentially reducing traffic accidents caused by human error.
Intel CEO Bob Swan joined Mikitani on stage for a chat about prospects for the technology. “With 5G, we really do believe that the future of compute is going to happen at the network and at the edge,” said Swan. “We have built our company by deploying compute architectures in new arenas, and we believe that the network of the future is going to be where the lion’s share of compute happens. We want to play there at the same level that we do with the PC and the data center, which is the primary source of our revenue today.”
To that end, Intel has been providing technology for the new Rakuten Mobile network, including Intel Xeon processors and Intel FPGA-based accelerators, to provide a flexible carrier service at low cost.
“That creates the flywheel,” Swan told Mikitani. “Once you can provide through technology a differentiated service at a lower cost, you get a real flywheel of innovation going. And that’s how we see this relationship, this architecture, the role 5G can play with your very innovative design.”
Along with artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as autonomous systems, 5G is one of the three key emerging technologies that will help evolve the nature of compute, according to Swan.
“More and more today, everything looks like a computer in some way, shape or form — whether it’s your home, your automobile, a retail store, a factory,” said Swan. “With the rate of innovation, not the least of which is 5G, it’s created all sorts of opportunities for us to think about how we can play a bigger role in bringing the technologies that we’ve developed to new areas.”
The road to autonomous driving
For Intel, one of the main opportunities with 5G is the “cloudification of the network,” as more and more compute moves from data centers to the network, allowing for the development of new applications, such as autonomous driving.
Swan described a recent trip to Israel in which he took a test-ride in a self-driving car developed by Intel computer vision subsidiary Mobileye, which aims to launch autonomous taxis next year. A staffer behind the wheel didn’t have to touch the steering wheel while driving through congested streets in Jerusalem for 20 minutes.
Swan said that robo-taxis can have much more onboard processing power because they will be monetized in commercial services. But to drive broad-based adoption of self-driving vehicles, 5G will play a critical role because putting a lot of computing power into everyday vehicles doesn’t make economic sense.
Transportation is going through two revolutions, Swan said. One revolution is safety, and Mobileye has developed a safety algorithm for autonomous vehicles that Intel is trying to get adopted as a global standard. The second revolution is autonomous driving, which improves mobility and will allow us to better use our time and energy. Swan added that he sees broader-based adoption in three to 10 years.
“We talk about going from a PC-centric world to a data-centric world by pushing forward on these three critical technologies of 5G, AI and autonomous driving.” said Swan. “They are interrelated because the common theme is they need to create more data: That data has to be computed, stored, analyzed and retrieved faster than ever before.”
In summing up his vision of the future, Mikitani told attendees, “The future is not necessarily an extrapolation of what we’ve experienced. We may get rid of cash or have a completely different notion of how countries should be. Autonomous driving could change the notion of driving, and the evolution of medicine could help extend the average life expectancy to 100 years. 5G will be the driver of these changes. Rakuten will be launching a new corporate credo, ‘Walk Together,’ because we want to walk together with all the business partners here today and with consumers. We want to build a better future with all of you.”