Rakuten builds a greenfield wireless network in Japan

The new network is employing the latest cloud and virtualization technologies. (Getty Images)

Japanese e-commence giant Rakuten is building a new mobile network to compete against NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, and SoftBank in Japan. And the company has enlisted a heavy-hitter roster of vendors to help it build what it dubs “the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network." Its vendor partners include Cisco, Nokia, Altiostar, Intel, Red Hat, OKI, Fujitsu, Ciena, NEC/Netcracker, Qualcomm, Mavenir, Quanta Cloud Technology, Sercomm, Tech Mahindra, Allot, Innoeye, and Viavi.

The Rakuten Mobile Network will initially be a 4G LTE network with macro and small cells as well as Wi-Fi. Construction of a radio antenna network is underway and on track for an October 2019 launch in Japan. The company says it will evolve to 5G in early 2020, subject to government licensing approval. In addition to mobile data and voice, the network will eventually deliver 5G fixed wireless access and narrowband IoT.

The company says the network will be fully virtualized from the radio access network (RAN) to the core, with end-to-end automation for both network functions and services.

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The first end-to-end, real-world tests of the new network were conducted Feb. 3 on the data network. Rakuten Mobile Network executives, team members and partners used the new data network to conduct voice and video calls over the Viber messaging platform. The tests are now expanding to engage up to 10,000 friendly users. The next stage of the project will include testing of the voice network.

Rakuten provided some details about the technical aspects of its new network:

  • By decoupling hardware and software in the RAN, the company was able to deploy very lean cell sites, with only antenna and remote radio heads, which is making it easier to find appropriate cell sites. It’s using virtual RAN (vRAN) radio processing.
  • The network will deploy a carrier-grade telco cloud for all virtualized applications from RAN to core. This will include a common orchestration layer on top. Central and regional software-defined data centers will be capable of tens of terabits of capacity, horizontal scale, automation and analytics.
  • For mobile edge computing, Rakuten is putting serverlike devices close to end users. The mobile network is using a Control and User Plane Separated packet core along with its distributed telco cloud, to enable mobile edge computing for both infrastructure functions and a variety of low-latency services.
  • The mobile backhaul transport network is being built for launch with the capacity and scale of 5G taken into account. The core of the network will have multiterabit capacity, and multiples of 100G of bandwidth will be made available to the cell site pre-aggregation network. In addition, the network will be based on IPv6, enabling device scale in extremely large numbers.
  • The new network will solve a common hardware problem for operators across the telco industry: the maintenance of hundreds of SKUs. Rakuten Mobile Network has less than 10 SKUs in order to enable infrastructure standardization.
  • Operations support systems (OSS) silos are another common problem faced by traditional telco operators. Rakuten has adopted a unified OSS strategy using one single OSS layer with next-generation capabilities.

A lot of vendors are working with Rakuten, and FierceWireless will be checking in with them soon to find out how they’re involved. But Intel issued a statement saying the Rakuten network vRAN runs on Intel Xeon processor-based servers from Quanta, supporting radio access technology from Altiostar and core network software from Cisco.

Rakuten is best known as an e-commerce company with an existing customer base of over 100 million registered members.

“We are very excited to launch a mobile network in Japan that is set to become the first choice of consumers and change global standards in telecommunications,” said Mickey Mikitani, president and CEO of Rakuten, in a prepared statement. “With automation and virtualization, Rakuten is redefining how mobile networks are designed and how services can be consumed.”

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