Azita Arvani is heading up Rakuten Mobile’s new office in the United States, where the Japanese company plans to sell its Rakuten Communications Platform to operators in the Americas.
The Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) is comprised of all the learnings Rakuten Mobile compiled while it was building its greenfield 4G network in Japan. The new network is built with common-off-the-shelf hardware and open software, a completely new and innovative way to build a wireless network.
Rakuten Mobile plans to now take all those learnings, via RCP, and offer them for sale to other network operators around the world.
“So many operators have said ‘we want to do the same thing,’” said Arvani. “I call it the ‘easy button’ where we take all our learnings and knowledge, and that was the inspiration for RCP.”
RCP combines the technology blueprint and playbook of Rakuten’s cloud-native mobile network so others don’t have to reinvent the wheel. It will be made available with an app-store-like interface where customers can tailor the platform to their local requirements.
Arvani comes to Rakuten from Nokia where she led the Global Innovation Partnering & Venture Management group. In that role she evaluated new technology innovations and startups, making recommendations to Nokia whether to partner with, acquire, or invest in the upstarts.
“It was something that grew out of various positions I had at Nokia,” said Arvani. “I always had a place in my heart for working with smaller companies. Most disruptive innovations come from start-ups. It’s hard in telco for startups to flourish.” She said the best way for telcos to "not get disrupted by surprise” was to work proactively with fledgling companies.
One of the startups she worked with in her role at Nokia was Altiostar, the U.S.-based company that is innovating open radio access network (RAN) software.
“Altiostar was one of my portfolio companies,” she said. “I’ve been working with them since 2015.”
It was via Altiostar that Arvani got to know people at Rakuten.
Arvani officially started with Rakuten Mobile in early February 2020. She’s based out of California, currently putting her team together and setting the structure of the operation.
There’s been a lot of talk that new wireless network operators such as Dish may want to follow Rakuten’s lead. But Rakuten will also be talking to legacy operators. “We’re open to talking to whomever wants to lean into this future network architecture,” said Arvani. “A lot of people are interested. It’s a matter as to who wants to work with the components of RCP. I don’t think there is any operator who says they do not want to cloudify their architecture.”
She also alluded to the fact that Rakuten is interested in U.S. government 5G initiatives that promote alternatives to the Chinese vendors Huawei and ZTE.
Rakuten Mobile belongs to the Open RAN Policy Coalition. “We’re on the board,” said Arvani. “That’s one way to educate and promote open and interoperable architecture to the government when they think about 5G and think about a secure supply chain.”
Rakuten Mobile in the United States will be making sure that when government officials are looking for options to replace Huawei and ZTE, they consider the Rakuten Communications Platform. “It’s a compelling other option they can think about when they write legislation,” said Arvani.
From a personal perspective, Arvani says she’s passionate about transformation in telecommunications networks, not only for its own sake, but because telecom networks can help other industries transform as well.
“I believe next-gen 5G networks, AI, IoT, and cloud are going to disrupt each and every industry,” she said. “Telco is in a great position to help other industries in their digital transitions. But in order to do so, they need to transform their own networks. That drives me in terms of the work we’re doing here.”