This article is part of a series of interviews with Rakuten Mobile employees. In this edition, we speak with Kavya Malhotra, a 5G end-to-end solution architect and section manager in the Technology Strategy Department. Kavya and his team oversee and design Rakuten Mobile’s 5G businesses, coordinating the company’s engineers to realize a coherent strategy.
Rakuten Mobile recently launched the world’s first end-to-end cloud-native mobile network, which you can read about here.
How did you begin your career?
I’m originally from Punjab, in northern India. I studied engineering and computer science and graduated in 2006. I worked for Orange Business Services for a few years before moving to Ericsson, where I spent nearly a decade traveling around the world for different projects. In total I have about 13 years of experience in the telecommunications industry.
Why did you choose a career in telecommunications?
I’ve been in love with computers since I was a child. How does the internet work? How are we all connected? That was always something I wanted to explore.
Telecommunications today is basically computers. Especially with what Rakuten is doing, the industry today looks a lot less like the telco of old, and a lot more like the IT industry.
“I thought, these people are doing something different.”
What brought you to Rakuten?
In my previous job, I had to travel around a lot for various projects. I worked in Qatar, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, the U.S., Madrid, Sri Lanka and Singapore. I had the opportunity to work with a Japanese carrier here in Tokyo, and as I was researching the local industry, I came across an article about how Rakuten Mobile was implementing end-to-end virtualization.
Immediately I thought, these people are doing something different: I needed to be part of it! I got an introduction from some connections on LinkedIn who I’d worked with in the past, and I moved straight over to Tokyo from Qatar in the summer of 2019.
Time is a very precious thing in my career. In my previous job, I was going with time, but I wasn’t growing with time. I was hungry to grow. When I saw what Rakuten was doing, I knew it could give me something to think about 24/7. It would be my job to think about computers all day long.
What do you and your department do?
I’m a section manager in Rakuten Mobile’s Technology Strategy Department, and an end-to-end solution architect. We are planning and designing the 5G network, taking all of the latest 5G evolutions that are coming to the market, adapting them and working them into our ecosystem.
I also run the End-to-End Architecture Section, which is a “melting pot” for the whole 5G planning and strategy department, where different issues and ideas get collected and we work together to find the best solution. This team is the thread that stitches the whole 5G fabric together for Rakuten Mobile to achieve the vision of a fully virtualized 5G network. We as a team are part of every discussion and meeting, so we have to have a firm grip on what is happening in all the different departments.
Is 5G an important part of Rakuten’s strategy?
Right now, to most of the world, 5G is just a word they’ve heard — something that’s coming in the future. I’d say maybe only 20% of the possibilities of 5G have been explored or invented so far. The rest is yet to come.
5G won’t just be for telecommunications. Right now we’re just connecting phones with other phones, but soon 5G will be what connects entire ecosystems: factories, healthcare, robotics, AI, everything. It will be huge.
It’s my job to look into the future, to see what’s coming in the next technology cycle and prepare for it. Who are our potential customers? How will we get them on board? What will happen to our current businesses? How will it impact the 4G network? Where will these technologies fit? It’s a mixture of technical and business use cases.
“Only 20% of the possibilities of 5G have been explored or invented so far.”
What’s the most exciting thing about your job?
Rakuten is doing things that have never been done before. Nobody else is doing what we’re doing. And the entire world is watching us.
I start working on something, and I know that it’s the first time it’s being done. It’s so motivating that I hardly want to sleep. We’ve told the world that we can do this, and now we have to prove it. That passion is intense for me.
How does the rest of the industry view Rakuten Mobile?
I talk to many different people who are watching Rakuten from around the world. People know that we have done something new — complete virtualization. Past colleagues contact me with all sorts of questions. Did you have these issues? How did you solve them?
There have definitely been challenges along the way, but they’ve been mostly logistical issues rather than technical ones. None of this has been done before, so of course there is a lot of trial and error.
“Rakuten is doing things that have never been done before.”
When we first started, some people had a very negative outlook. One major hardware company even wrote a white paper claiming that our virtualization efforts would never be successful. And yet we’ve had it working for months now. We already have live customers, and I’m using the network on my primary device right now. We’ve done it.
For me, it’s now a question of how quickly we can deliver this to the world.
What kind of people do you work with?
We are a very diverse team. We come from Taiwan, China, India, Mexico, Iran, Israel… everybody’s bringing their own experiences from the different industries they’ve worked in.
“Engineering is about creation. I’m not following, I’m creating.”
We have core people, RAN people, IP Transport people — everyone has expertise in something, since we oversee the whole business from end to end. We’re always talking, discussing and learning. It’s challenging and fun.
What kind of person works well at Rakuten Mobile?
You need to have an open mind.
Maybe you’re technically gifted, you have experience in RAN and you know the protocols. That’s great, but it’s something that’s expected from any engineer. You can probably get by at most telcos with only those skills, but at Rakuten Mobile, if you want to grow, you need to open your mind and think outside the box.
“If you want to discover yourself, if you want to do something new, and if you want to be part of a journey which is going to change the world, then you’ll fit right in.”
For me, I started out as a learner. I wasn’t born an engineer, but it was my choice to become an engineer. Engineering is about creation. I’m not following, I’m creating. I want to end my journey able to say, “I did this, I created this.”
If you want to discover yourself, if you want to do something new, and if you want to be part of a journey which is going to change the world, then you’ll fit right in.
Kavya Malhotra is a 5G end-to-end solution architect and section manager in the Technology Strategy Department, where he and his team coordinate and design Rakuten Mobile’s 5G strategy.
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