Rakuten Mobile hits 1.77 Gbps on mmWave network in Japan

Rakuten Mobile
Rakuten says it takes just four minutes to provision a new 5G cell site and eight minutes for a 4G cell site.  (Rakuten)

Rakuten Mobile achieved 1.77 Gbps throughput in a recent test on its millimeter wave network in Japan.

Altiostar touted performance and automation capabilities of the virtualized cloud-native 5G network, which launched in September using the vendor’s Open vRAN software. Rakuten has an equity stake in Altiostar.

“This is a significant milestone for the Rakuten Mobile and Altiostar partnership towards commercial realization of a high performing, cloud-native 5G RAN architecture,” said Ashraf Dahod, CEO of Altiostar, in a statement. “The Altiostar container-based solution allows Rakuten Mobile to quickly provision new sites and turn up service for a customer in record time."

The announcement was light on details about the test, which took place in December, but noted the download speed was a gigabit higher than average download speeds in Japan based on Q3 speed tests from Ookla. Those results showed the fastest 10% of users in Japan saw average download speeds of 719.42 Mbps.

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That’s a big jump from 4G LTE as Opensignal in September showed Rakuten Mobile’s user speeds were much slower than the average of Japan’s three other wireless carriers – at just 21.6 Mbps compared to 46.9 Mbps. A November report from Tutela showed users were getting a better experience when connected to Rakuten’s own 4G network, but speeds dragged as users roamed on other carrier’s networks more than 45% of the time because of limited coverage.

More recently in February, Opensignal reported large increases in the share of connections to Rakuten’s own network as the operator continued to build out – and still reported better on-net speeds versus when users roam. The report noted that radio deployments were focused in locations where Rakuten could deploy the full 20-megahertz of 4G LTE spectrum, but the carrier can leverage only 5-megahertz in many locations.

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Rakuten’s greenfield build of virtualized 4G network went live in April 2020, followed by 5G five months later.

Rakuten Mobile used a variety of vendors including Altiostar, which also worked closely with Qualcomm and Airspan on mmWave radios based on Qualcomm’s 5G RAN platform. For sub-6 GHz massive MIMO radios Rakuten tapped NEC which also worked with Altiostar. That gear is compliant with O-RAN specifications, and validated last fall during an O-RAN Alliance Plugfest in India.

Rakuten’s network had more than 11,000 base stations at the end of January 2021, covering nearly 75% of Japan’s population. The operator is targeting 96% coverage by this summer. It plans to have 27,000 base stations online by then.

Altiostar pointed to the deployment of Virtual Network Functions (VNF) as adding to operational automation, including auto-commissioning cell site integration and fault detection and automated recovery from failures known as self-healing.

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Rakuten has said it takes just four minutes to provision a new 5G cell site and eight minutes for a 4G cell site.  

“Rakuten has been a disruptor in the mobile space and our 4G and 5G Open vRAN deployments reflect this strategy,” said Tareq Amin, EVP and Chief Technology Officer at Rakuten Mobile, in a statement. “The performance and stability of the 5G network shows that a cloud-native framework and web-scale architecture can compete with a traditional RAN approach and provide new levels of automation to the network.”