Open RAN for everyone: Rakuten continues to empower a more open, innovative telecom industry

Mickey Mikitani, Chairman & CEO, Rakuten Group

Recently, at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, we made what I believe was one of the most disruptive announcements of the conference: Rakuten Symphony is going to start licensing its mobile software to anyone who wants to use it.

Rakuten operates more than 70 different businesses around the world. We are a leader in e-commerce, travel, advertising and fintech: In Japan, we are the leading provider of credit cards, digital banking, online brokerage services – all tied together by the country’s favorite loyalty points program.

A decade ago, the last business I wanted to engage in was telecommunications. It requires significant upfront investment to build a nationwide network, and it’s remarkably complex from both a logistical and technological perspective. But I changed my mind for two reasons.

First, wireless connectivity was becoming too expensive. In most countries, it has been oligopolized by a few players who have formed their own exclusive country clubs. I decided that we needed disruption. Second, everybody in the world should have access to high quality wireless networks without limitations, at a reasonable cost. So how could we do it?

Making virtualization a reality

The answer was virtualization – taking the industry’s legacy, hardware-heavy architecture and rebuilding it to work entirely on software. This would break the shackles of proprietary hardware vendors and open up the industry to both new and existing players.

Six years ago, when we embarked on this journey, nobody believed that virtualization would work. I spoke with CEOs of major telecom companies, and while not everyone was skeptical, it was clear that few believed in it.

We, meanwhile, were the challengers, the one organization “ignorant” enough to attempt to democratize wireless mobile networks. To do this, we knew we couldn’t follow a conventional approach. We needed a breakthrough – we needed virtualization.

Open RAN for everyone

In 2020, we launched Rakuten Mobile based on Rakuten Symphony’s technology of building a fully virtualized mobile network.

This is something that sets us apart from many others in the industry: We are the only company that owns and operates its own mobile network and the software that drives it. And we are confident that our Open RAN (radio access network) software is more mature and advanced than our competitors.

The RAN sector has long been dominated by legacy systems that stifle innovation and inflate costs. While everybody is busy building software for proprietary systems, we have been working to unbundle hardware and software and drive down costs.

That’s why we announced the launch of Rakuten Symphony’s Real Open RAN Licensing Program, making our award-winning software available to anyone in the industry.

We want to ensure this disruption allows everyone access to high quality, reasonably-priced wireless networks, no matter where they are in the world – something I hope will change the direction of the industry.

Rakuten and Kyivstar leadership signed a letter of intent at Rakuten’s booth at MWC 2024.
Rakuten and Kyivstar leadership signed a letter of intent at Rakuten’s booth at MWC 2024.

A telecom revolution driven by partnerships

At MWC, I was honored to host one of our most important partners, the CEO of 1&1 Mobilfunk Michael Martin. We are still two of the very few companies in the world to have successfully deployed an Open RAN network.

In addition to this, we announced that our Open RAN technology will be deployed in Ukraine, in partnership with Kyivstar. We’re also working to partner with NOW Telecom to do the same in the Philippines.

Meanwhile, we are expanding our partnership with OpenAI to develop and deliver cutting-edge AI tools for the telecommunications industry. We’re aiming to revolutionize the way AI is used in telecom by addressing the unique needs and challenges of telecom operators when planning, building and managing mobile networks.

I truly believe that if telecom players don’t adapt to modern tech, they will struggle to keep up. With Rakuten Mobile’s suite of technology now available for the whole industry to leverage, there’s no excuse to be left behind.

Show More
Back to top button