‘Mindset, culture’ have driven Rakuten Mobile’s cloud-native success, SVP tells telco conference

At TM Forum’s DTW Ignite! 2023 conference in Copenhagen, Anil Pawar, Rakuten Mobile’s SVP and Head of Architecture and Tech Strategy, told industry experts why the operator’s unique approach has empowered a cloud-native operation and removed a variety of technological barriers.

The biggest barrier to technological transformation is an organizational mindset and not technology itself, Rakuten Mobile’s SVP and Head of Architecture has said.

Speaking on day two of TM Forum’s DTW Ignite! 2023 conference, Pawar also underlined how a cloud-native approach has brought industry-leading speed to the operator.

In their on-stage session titled “Bringing the cloud-native network to life” alongside Oracle’s SVP and GM of Communications Jason Rutherford and moderator Ian Turkington, TM Forum’s VP of architecture and APIs, Pawar gave his take on the reasons why Rakuten Mobile’s unique culture and mindset has laid the foundations for a world-renowned network deployment.

“Whenever we see an engineer repeatedly doing a task manually, we always automate that process. That’s what differentiates us from the rest of the world.”

Anil Pawar, SVP, Head of Architecture & Tech Strategy, Rakuten Mobile

Pawar began by emphasizing the culture that has earned Rakuten Mobile widespread industry acclaim. “First and foremost, technological change starts with people,” he said. “There is a fundamental need to invest in a culture change – organizations have traditionally been siloed, but a cloud-native organization has to become platform-based.”

“That mindset is so important. Whenever we see an engineer repeatedly doing a task manually, we always look to automate that process. That approach is what differentiates us from the rest of the world.”

Speed is the name of the game

That same philosophy has been crucial in enabling Rakuten Mobile’s operation to run successfully in the cloud, Pawar said. “The cloud-native journey is never a technology challenge – it’s a people and culture, organizational and mindset challenge,” he said. “When we talk about being cloud-native, what’s important is the design principles behind that. If you start to look at how networks are traditionally deployed, there’s no iterative approach.”

“Speed is the name of the game… In telecom, that means fast network deployments and fast software upgrades.”

Speed, Pawar said, is a key metric against which an operator should be measured. It is an area in which Rakuten Mobile has already excelled in the way it has deployed and enhanced its services. “They can be deployed at much greater speed, and then improved and modernized as you go – adding more features and functionality,” he said. “That allows you to respond to what the customers want. If you’re able to do that, it allows you to monetize new and creative services. By being cloud-native, we achieve that desired speed in network deployment.

“Our platform is our killer app. Consumer behavior has changed – they expect immediate service – speed is the name of the game. That’s where every business needs to focus. In telecom, that means fast network deployments and fast software upgrades.”

Reducing capex and driving connectivity: The role of Open RAN

Pawar went on to highlight how one of Rakuten’s commitment to continuous improvement was a fundamental driver behind the decision to become cloud-native and to run an automation-first operation. “This concept of continuous learning and improvement, software-centricity – that’s driven us for the last few years,” he said.

In advance of DTW Ignite!, organizers of TM Forum released their “CEO Playbook” a manifesto designed to support leaders in navigating the challenges faced by the global telecom industry. The association body’s research claims that telecom has reached a “strategic breakpoint” and has become “disconnected from growth”. Stagnation is imminent, the report says, with telecom’s collective investment of $1 trillion in the last five years delivering just 0.9% growth.

Pawar agreed with the sentiment of the advisory report and underlined the importance of bringing down notoriously high capex within the industry. “We’ve seen in our own case studies and through third-party research that our capex has been 40% less compared to the way traditional networks are deployed,” he said. “Open RAN has been a big factor in this. It allowed us to get to know our components inside out. In terms of OPEX, now more than 300,000 cells are live, but we are running our operation with just 250 people. This is all because of the power of the platform, the power of automation.”

“We looked at the reasons why, despite such an advancement in telecom, three billion people are still not connected. The reason is the cost – the cost of deploying the network, the cost of operating the network, is the biggest reason. This is where the power of the Open RAN, cloud and software is needed.”

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