This article is part of a series highlighting the collaboration between Rakuten Mobile and its partners to build the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network. In this edition, we speak to Eric D. Stonestrom, President & CEO of Airspan Networks Inc.
One of the longest running storylines in high tech has been the competition between open and closed technologies. Today, the former is firmly in the ascendancy. Indeed, one of the hallmarks of Rakuten Mobile’s new network is its unprecedented reliance on open hardware and software.
By working with multiple suppliers, Rakuten Mobile aims to avoid the restrictions of being locked into a single vendor, enabling it to fundamentally lower the cost of building and running a mobile network, and pass those cost savings on to customers. Rakuten Mobile’s partner Airspan Networks (Airspan) is a big proponent of this approach. Rakuten Mobile “is the world’s first completely cloud-native mobile network leveraging open interfaces between radio and software,” notes Eric Stonestrom, Airspan’s CEO. “We are opening up the building blocks of our solutions to enable innovation on a broad scale.”
Florida-based Airspan is supplying 4G and 5G radio access network (RAN) solutions to Rakuten to provide coverage in tens of thousands of dense urban hotspots in Japan. Airspan has “scaled up dramatically” its presence in Japan, says Stonestrom, enabling it to deploy “thousands of cells in less than six months within Rakuten Mobile’s network, with installation times measured in minutes, not hours or days.”
Airspan says the density and capacity of Rakuten Mobile’s network means it is performing far better than conventional 4G networks in terms of throughput. “Rakuten Mobile’s ultra-dense urban 4G network is performing far and above main existing 4G networks and more akin to fibre-like speeds,” notes Stonestrom, adding that Rakuten Mobile can improve this performance further using carrier aggregation technology, which can harness more spectrum resources.
By offering a high-level of performance at a low price, Rakuten Mobile has already disrupted the cellular market in Japan. “With the launch of our commercial network, the Rakuten Mobile ecosystem has categorically demonstrated that an open and virtualized architecture can deliver a superior customer experience at a significantly lower cost,” said Tareq Amin, Chief Technology Officer of Rakuten Mobile. “Airspan has played a major role in making that vision a compelling reality.”
A harbinger of things to come
Having demonstrated an open and virtualized RAN can be deployed at scale, Rakuten Mobile’s new network is serving as a harbinger of things to come for the broader telecoms industry. The commercial network is “fully open, software-powered and automated from end-to-end,” notes Stonestrom. “It is leading the industry by thinking outside the box and making the future happen, now. The cost savings that this disruptive architecture will provide are a fundamental milestone on the journey to disrupting the status quo.” Research firm Strategy Analytics has estimated that using an open RAN architecture can reduce an operator’s capital and operating costs by up to 40%.
Stonestrom says Rakuten Mobile’s open architecture represents a “paradigm shift in network features and economics” that will translate into an improved user experience at lower cost. “This shift could be the bedrock of future 5G networks around the world,” he adds.
Building on their experience working with Rakuten Mobile, Airspan and Altiostar Networks (in which Rakuten is an investor) are now working together to accelerate the commercialization of open RAN 4G and 5G platforms. Together, the two companies plan to enable operators across the world to take advantage of fully virtualized cloud-native network architectures utilizing Altiostar’s open virtualized RAN solution with Airspan’s OpenRANGE platform.
Proponents say one of the biggest benefits of an open architecture is the flexibility to choose the optimum supplier for each element of the network. “The multi-vendor open architecture value proposition of a fully cloud-native virtualized network has allowed Rakuten Mobile to select ecosystem partners that specialize in the bleeding edge of their respective fields at a level of granularity that was never before possible with one-stop-shop traditional RAN vendors,” explains Stonestrom.
For Airspan, which has deployed more than half a million systems globally over the past 25 years, the commercial launch of Rakuten Mobile’s radical new network is a major milestone on a decade-long journey. “With Sprint (an operator in the U.S.) and Jio (an operator in India), we proved that a disaggregated deployment model was feasible at scale,” says Stonestrom, adding that its experience of working with green-field and disruptive players has helped it “push the envelope even further” with Rakuten Mobile.
At the same time, Airspan itself has benefited from working with “an internet company that already understands what a 21st century user experience should be,” notes Stonestrom. “We hope to be able to in the near future take what we have learned together and bring this innovation to all our customers on a global scale.”