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 with Bejoy Pankajakshan, Chief Strategy Officer at Mavenir.
Rakuten Mobile is using internet best practices to reinvent cellular services. A key partner in this endeavor is Mavenir, a Texas-based software company serving the global telecoms industry. In particular, Mavenir is helping Rakuten Mobile combine the rich capabilities of internet-based communications services with the reliability, reach and quality associated with telecom-provided voice and messaging / SMS services — the ubiquitous standards in the mobile industry. The result is Rakuten Link — a new Rakuten Mobile smartphone app that has the capability to support everything from instant messaging and group video calls to chatbots and online shopping.
“Rakuten Link is an OTT (over-the-top) offering that is deeply integrated with Rakuten’s network, so you are getting a much better quality of service,” explains Bejoy Pankajakshan, Chief Strategy Officer at Mavenir. OTT refers to services, such as Viber, WeChat and WhatsApp, that are designed to run on top of any network connected to the internet. Compatible with both mobile and fixed networks, Rakuten Link can, if necessary, fall back to SMS and MMS, giving it global reach and compatibility. “It is not a closed ecosystem,” stresses Pankajakshan.
Rakuten Mobile and Mavenir engineers are developing Rakuten Link for everyday tasks. In addition to communication with friends and family, it has the potential to allow people to buy products and services, catch-up with news, and share photos and videos. “We have the RCS (rich communication services) specification as a base, but we have evolved a lot beyond that and look forward to integrating it into the Rakuten Ecosystem, incorporating the Rakuten ID, digital content channels, the shopping channels and other services all bundled into Rakuten Link,” says Pankajakshan. Rakuten Link is designed to take advantage of the versatility and agility of Rakuten Mobile’s pioneering network, which uses the cloud to run all the necessary software. “The automation of the network means you can provide a level of service that traditional cellphone networks can’t,” explains Pankajakshan. “And it also means you can bring down the cost for customers as well.”
A new lease of life for RCS
Leveraging Rakuten Mobile’s ground breaking cloud-native mobile network, the RCS specification that underpins the Rakuten Link app has been employed by telcos around the world with mixed results. As one of the leading suppliers of RCS solutions to telcos, Mavenir is excited to see Rakuten Mobile build on this industry-wide specification to provide its customers with a superior communications experience. “Rakuten Mobile is going to help RCS get better established and that is going to help us,” notes Pankajakshan. “In Europe, one of the early mistakes was to launch RCS under the Joyn brand. But a major U.S. carrier has never advertised anything and yet it has 40 devices supporting RCS. It is all under the hood. Their customers are getting all the new capabilities without knowing about RCS. It has been happening by stealth.”
One of the key success factors for any mobile app is the user interface (UI) – is it slick and straightforward? Is it intuitive to use? Rakuten Mobile has brought its considerable expertise in this domain to bear on Rakuten Link, which has been carefully designed to provide a smooth experience on smartphones. “Mickey [Mikitani, Chairman and CEO of Rakuten] gives a lot of attention to the end-user experience (UX),” says Pankajakshan. “The UI and the UX have been tailored to the Japanese market. It is very intuitive, it looks good and is easy to use. Rakuten Mobile has guided Mavenir on that front.” Rakuten Mobile and Mavenir also plan to collaborate to develop international versions of Rakuten Link, which would be tailored to the sensibilities of each target market.
Even before Rakuten Mobile’s full commercial launch, experts have been impressed by what they have seen. In a post on LinkedIn in March, Leonard Lee, industry analyst and founder of neXt Curve, wrote: “I watched the Qualcomm press conference today and was impressed by Rakuten’s Link service that is based on Mavenir’s RCS solution.”
Joining Rakuten Communications Platform global launch
Mavenir is also supplying Rakuten Mobile with various other elements of its new network, including an “evolved packet core” for Internet of Things services. Indeed, the Texas-based company is an important contributor to the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), which Rakuten is looking to deploy in markets beyond Japan in partnership with other telcos.
“As well as helping us create a world-leading communications suite, Mavenir is playing a key role in delivering the Rakuten Communications Platform, which will be available to other operators around the world. ” explains Tareq Amin, Chief Technology Officer of Rakuten Mobile. “Together, with Mavenir and our other technology partners, we are harnessing state of the art computing to make the telecoms industry far more cost-effective, flexible and nimble.”
Although it isn’t supplying the radical Open radio access network (OpenRAN) technology used in Rakuten Mobile’s base stations, Mavenir is keen to see how this new architecture performs in a fully loaded commercial network. “Rakuten Mobile is the first one to deploy,” says Pankajakshan. “We want to see OpenRAN successful, so that people are convinced that the technology is solid and the ecosystem is vibrant. We also have OpenRAN in our portfolio. In the U.S., Dish is going to use OpenRAN and Charlie [Ergen, chairman of Dish Network] and other Dish executives have said they are using Rakuten Mobile as the reference. Rakuten Mobile’s deployment should help the entire [OpenRAN] ecosystem.”
For Mavenir, working with Rakuten Mobile is a rewarding experience. “It has accelerated our plans for 2020,” says Pankajakshan. “We have done the groundwork for a web-scale, containerized deployment for the Rakuten Communications Platform. We are also collaborating with Rakuten to onboard the Mavenir OpenRAN solution on RCP and will take this platform to market jointly with Rakuten Mobile, which shows that it is not just IT applications that can run on a containerized architecture. Since RCP is open to all cloud native software solutions, for Mavenir, onboarding our applications including OpenRAN on this platform is similar to working with public cloud providers. RCP is a new route to market and will support our international expansion plans.”