Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) defacto standard for 5G core and OpenRAN?
In Japanese, Rakuten stands for “optimism.” This philosophy lies at the core of the company’s brand. They may be the leader is selling 5G mobile core network specs and virtualization network software to global network operators in the absence of any ITU-T standards or 3GPP detailed implementation specs. [Please refer to References for more details, especially on the 3GPP Technical Specifications 23.501, 23.502, 23.503.]
Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) has been sold to a total of 15 customers so far, according to the company’s mobile networking CTO Tareq Amin.
“We have already 15 global customers. A lot of people don’t know that the sales already started. And these are not small customers. Some of them are very, very massive,” he said this week during a virtual roundtable with members of the media. “I’m really delighted to see that we finally are reaching a stage where possibly in the next quarter or so we have a very large contract about the entire RCP stack.”
Regarding network performance, Amin explained that success factors are based on virtualization, standardization, optimization and automatizing. Combined, they lead to more cost efficiency, innovation, affordability and growth.
Rakuten Mobile was the first to deploy a large-scale OpenRAN commercial network and the first fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network. And Amin refutes the perceived limitations of open radio access networks, arguing that Rakuten Mobile’s only limitation today is spectrum assets.
“With less than 20% of spectrum assets compared to our competitors, we are doing great. OpenRAN does not mean we have an average network; the truth is that we have a world-class network,” he added, explaining that once Rakuten Mobile moves from five to 20MHz, there will be a significant improvement in performance, while 5G deployment is also accelerating.
Despite launching a commercial service during a global pandemic, Rakuten Mobile already has received more than 2 million applications, with the majority of applications made online rather than in stores.
Rakuten appears to have broadened its focus a few months later when it announced it acquired operational support system (OSS) provider Innoeye for the “Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP).”
Rakuten officially took the wraps off RCP in October 2020 with an announcement that it was “bringing 5G to the word.” The business is based in Singapore and headed by Rabih Dabboussi, who previously worked at networking giant Cisco and cybersecurity company DarkMatter, according to his LinkedIn profile, before joining Rakuten in May 2020.
RCP essentially is the platform on which Rakuten is building its 4G and 5G networks in Japan. Amin explained that the offering consists of a number of different, interchangeable pieces including network orchestration, cloud management and artificial intelligence provided by a range of participating suppliers. RCP customers can pick and choose which parts of the platform they wish to use.
From Amin’s email to this author: “NEC/Rakuten 5GC is 3GPP based standardized software for network service and a de facto standard container basis infrastructure (“infrastructure agnostic”). It is a forward looking approach, but not proprietary.”
“NEC/Rakuten 5GC openness are realized by implementation of “Open Interface” defined in 3GPP specifications (TS 23.501, 502, 503 and related stage 3 specifications). 3GPP 5GC specification requires cloud native architecture as the general concept (service based architecture). It should be distributed, stateless, and scalable. However, an explicit reference model is out of scope for the 3GPP specification. Therefore NEC 5GC cloud native architecture is based on above mentioned 3GPP concept as well as ETSI NFV treats “container” and “cloud native”, which NEC is also actively investigating to apply its product.”
RCP essentially positions Rakuten against cloud giants like Amazon, Google and Microsoft, companies that are also selling cloud-based network management and operational services to network operators globally. Indeed, Microsoft last year acquired Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch Networks in pursuit of that goal.
Rakuten’s sales of RCP are directly linked to the success of the company’s ongoing 4G and 5G network buildouts in Japan. As a result, the company has been quick to address concerns over the performance of its mobile network in Japan which is both based on RCP.
“What we’ve done in 4G was enabling a world-first virtualized infrastructure. For 5G, we have a world-first containerized architecture, completely cloud-native radio access software that is (made up of) disaggregated micro services,” he explained.
“Between LTE, which is 40MHz and about 500MHz of spectrum assets, we think we have a very strong position to be able to increase capacity and demand.”
“We’re very confident about our business model and our business plan. And the idea to have zero churn in the network is also a unique value proposition that really emphasizes the critical role of the [Rakuten Mobile] ecosystem and the critical role of data for our long term viability,” said Amin.
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3 thoughts on “Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) defacto standard for 5G core and OpenRAN?”
The trouble is that open RAN is supposedly about mixing and matching suppliers, and not buying integrated systems. If an operator relies on a Parallel Wireless and Comba tie-up to supply products for its radio access network, how can it have confidence that substituting MTI for Comba would not affect performance?
And what, then, is the difference between open RAN and the “closed RAN” technologies supplied by Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia, the industry giants?
Rakuten Mobile signed a deal to help U.S.-based Ligado Networks design a private 5G network that uses the Japanese operator’s customizable platform.
The deal has the companies initially working to define a strategy that uses the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) and corresponding ecosystem to support Ligado’s L-Band spectrum holdings in the 1.6 GHz band. That work is set to begin this quarter and will target a 5G private network targeted at enterprise customers.
Rakuten unveiled its RCP plans late last year. The platform is a combination of the operator’s various technical and intellectual property that it’s using to construct its software-centric network in Japan. The RCP model is focused on mobile operators, enterprises interested in private networks, and governments.
Rakuten began demonstrating the RCP platform in August and claims it reduces capex for mobile operators by 40% and opex by 30%. Rakuten CEO Hiroshi Mikitani, at the time, said the global market for a platform like RCP, including traditional network costs for mobile operators, reaches up to $375 billion annually.
Ligado currently provides mobile satellite service to government and commercial users in North America. It has been working with the federal government for years to use its spectrum assets to provide terrestrial service that can also tie into its satellite offering.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) last month voted to deny a petition from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) that would prevent Ligado from commencing work with its spectrum holdings. NTIA had argued that the work would impact government GPS use. That FCC vote came one day before the agency’s previous head stepped down in alignment with the presidential administration change.
Ligado’s spectrum concerns have been a long-running issue within the cellular community. Under its previous incarnation as LightSquared, it fought with the GPS community over potential interference issues in using its spectrum holdings for a terrestrial network. It eventually struck deals with a number of commercial entities in that community but also struggled through a complicated bankruptcy process and various attempts to partner with carriers and vendors to build out a cellular network.
Many talk about OpenRAN but few dare to ask the critical questions which concern mobile operators
Many OpenRAN pronouncements sound too good to be true, for example a technology that can reduce mobile operators infrastructure CAPEX and OPEX by 30-40 percent. Investors and other decision makers want objective information about the latest mobile industry hype. Strand Consult’s report “Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN” examines the claims made by OpenRAN proponents. Strand Consult, having witnessed the launch of WiMax, OneAPI, and the iPhone among other hyped technologies promised to bring windfall revenues to mobile operators, provides critical questions to evaluate OpenRAN in its latest report.
Strand Consult is an independent research company with 25 years industry experience in the mobile telecom industry with over 170 mobile operators globally as clients. Strand Consult is known for its expert knowledge and many reports which help mobile operators and their shareholders navigate an increasing complex world.
We at Strand Consult has nothing against OpenRAN. However we want to create the transparency at the O-RAN Alliance, and some of its members have pushed back. Indeed Strand Consult’s transparency concerns are shared by policymakers in the EU and US, notably the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.
Strand Consult has studied OpenRAN and produced many reports and research notes on the topic. Strand Consult first identified that there are at least 44 Chinese firms participating in the OpenRan Alliance, debunking the assertion that OpenRAN would be free of Chinese influence. Strand Consult has also posited that Huawei is influencing OpenRAN indirectly through its largest customer China Mobile, which is a founding member of the O-RAN Alliance. However inspiring companies like Mavenir, Parallell Wireless, and Altiostar may be to storytellers, they are bit players. Most of the contributions to OpenRAN specifications come from old established technology providers and China Mobile.
Strand Consult’s goal is to create objectivity and transparency about the actors promoting OpenRAN so that mobile operators, investors and others stakeholders can make informed decisions. Strand Consult finds it telling that OpenRAN proponents have not wanted to answer its critical questions addressing financial, economic, technical, and practical points about the technology. This is particularly evident at many OpenRAN webinars over the last 18 months when Strand Consult posts its questions publicly in the chat and the moderator ignores the questions, or Strand Consult’s emailed questions to the event organizer are ignored.
In an effort to lift the level of policy discussion, Strand Consult offers a comprehensive review of the official public documents promoting deployment of 5G Open Radio Access Networks (OpenRAN). These include the set of industrial, think tank, advocacy, and academic papers and reports as well as official proceedings by regulators and authorities in the United States and European Union. Official inquiries on OpenRAN have been undertaken by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and the DG Connect at European Union.
These inquiries have a variety of goals. One objective of these inquiries is to explore resilience in the network infrastructure market. Another is to promote alternative suppliers to Chinese providers Huawei and ZTE. Yet another is to explore and develop industrial policy and promote domestic companies.
Strand Consult believes that such processes and subsequent reports are important. Telecommunications regulatory authorities are tasked with providing policymakers with objective information for decision making as well as cost benefit and other analyses.
In the report “Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN”, Strand Consult investigates the quality of the literature describing OpenRAN. It categorizes the 25 myths into 6 categories: security, competition, innovation, engineering, economics, and public policy. Among the OpenRAN reports, articles, and investigations, there is little information which can be classified as empirical, scientific, or peer-reviewed. Outside of a few exceptions, most materials are marketing/advocacy promoted by OpenRAN proponents or news/press releases/opinion pieces. The key shortcomings of the OpenRAN discussion include
Lack of objectivity and/or empirical support
Preconceived notions, assumptions, and assertions about the economics of infrastructure, competition, and innovation
Little to no discussion of the infrastructure value chain beyond the large infrastructure equipment providers
Ignorance or failure to disclose that OpenRAN is not a technical standard. The O-RAN Alliance develops technical specifications for 4G and 5G RAN internal functions and interface, not for 2G and 3G. The O-RAN Alliance is not a standards development organization (SDOs) like the 3GPP.
Ignorance or failure to disclose that OpenRAN only supports 4G and 5G and therefore it is not a 1:1 commercial alternative for 5G networks. Moreover OpenRAN does not support 2G and 3G, the prevailing network generation in many developing countries, and yet OpenRAN is reported as a solution for developing countries.
Ignorance or failure to disclose that 182 commercial 5G networks have been launched globally. These are classic RAN installations that support 2, 3, 4 and 5G in one base station. There is only 1 commercial OpenRAN installation, Rakuten in Japan.
Ignorance or failure to disclose how small expectations are for the OpenRAN install base by 2025 and 2030 compared to the entire market. This is likely just 1 percent in 2025 and under 3 percent in 2030.
Ignorance or failure to disclose the role of Chinese vendors in OpenRAN ecosystem and their leading role in OpenRAN governance and specification setting
The report “Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN” takes a critical view of the claims made about OpenRAN, including the claim that OpenRAN will stimulate the 5G service market. Strand Consult doesn’t believe OpenRAN will stimulate the 5G service market. We understand which services there will be in the core network and which in the cloud. They key problem for OpenRAN community is that they can’t explain which services are based on RAN that require OpenRAN on a cell site to be implemented. And the OpenRAN community cannot tell us who will develop these OpenRAN-based services, who will sell them, what business models underlie these services, whether they will address corporate or consumer market. And they cannot tell us about whether these services only be available on the few mobile sites where the operators have implemented OpenRAN, e.g. outside the big cites.
The report “Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN” will provide the objectivity and transparency needed by decision makers. This is the sort of information and analysis which is not available in most mainstream outlets. At the end of the day, mobile operators’ job is to deliver a great network experience to their customers. OpenRAN proponents have not succeeded to communicate, let alone demonstrate, specifically or empirically the difference they will make to mobile operators’ bottom line in a world where 182 commercial 5G networks on classic RAN have been launched.
For more than 25 years, Strand Consult has debunked the many myths of mobile industry hype. With its new and free report “Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN”, Strand Consult provides valuable information to mobile operators, investors and other mobile industry stakeholders.
Contact Strand Consult today to get your free copy of the report “Debunking 25 Myths of OpenRAN”
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