Why It’s Important: Rakuten Mobile, Intel and NEC collaborate on containerized 5G SA core network

Rakuten Mobile, NEC and Intel  announced today that they have achieved a performance of 640 Gbps per server for the containerized User Plane Function (UPF) on the containerized 5G SA core network jointly developed by Rakuten Mobile and NEC running on the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP).

In the absence of ITU-T standards or 3GPP implementation specs (beyond architecture and functional requirements) for 5G SA core network or the ultra hyped 5G functions that go with it (e.g. network slicing, automation, service chaining, etc), the Rakuten Mobile-NEC containerized 5G SA core network is a very important development.

We documented that in this IEEE Techblog post.  Rakuten has said they plan to sell their RCS platform (which includes 5G SA core network spec and software) to 5G SA network providers. They say they already have at least 15 customers.

According to Dave Bolan of Dell’Oro Group, most 5G SA networks will be based on containers (rather then virtualized network functions/VNF).

Many analysts say that containerized UPF performance is needed to maximize the value of 5G deployment. This is because the control plane (C-plane) and user plane (U-plane), which were historically collocated, are completely decoupled in this disaggregated 5G architecture. Separating them enables an independently scalable UPF which is key to private networks, edge computing, hybrid cloud and to accelerate a variety of deployment scenarios. Rakuten Mobile has adopted 5G architecture from the launch of its network, including a CUPS (Control and User Plane Separated) packet core for its 4G LTE network.

TelecomTV says that control and data plane separation enables the 5G network operator to deploy multiple UPF instances closer to where the traffic originates, rather than at fixed locations in the network. The result is lower latency and a better user experience. It also means UPF instances can be turned on and off as capacity demand dictates, enabling operators to dynamically allocate network resources.

The 640 Gbps performance per server for the containerized UPF on the 5G SA core network was achieved in a laboratory environment in Tokyo. This represents a significant opportunity to drive high performance of the commercial network in the future.

NEC says it leveraged its industry-leading product development based on its advanced telecom and IT expertise to maximize CPU utilization and fast memory access. That software was facilitated by use of Intel’s latest high-performance infrastructure, including 3rd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors with built-in AI acceleration and Dual-port 100Gb Intel Ethernet Network Adapter E810-2CQDA2 with Dynamic Device Personalization (DDP).

Rakuten Mobile, Intel and NEC have collaborated on high-speed processing of containerized UPF, which plays a significant role in this initiative, and achieved a performance of 640 Gbps per server. High-speed processing in a containerized environment on Rakuten Mobile’s RCP enables instant and flexible deployment of UPF from edge to central locations based on traffic characteristics, leveraging RCP’s full automation features.

“Rakuten Mobile has successfully designed and built a fully containerized mobile network based on open standards,” commented Tareq Amin, Representative Director, Executive Vice President and CTO of Rakuten Mobile. “With NEC and Intel, we have demonstrated that extremely high-speed processing is possible on containers. We aim to continue to pursue performance improvements in the core to achieve higher throughput and reduce cost and energy consumption in the rollout of network technology in Japan and worldwide.”

“We’re proud that Rakuten Mobile, Intel and NEC were able to demonstrate industry-leading UPF performance,” commented NEC Executive Vice President Atsuo Kawamura. “NEC has been developing high-performance and highly reliable 5G systems by leveraging our vast experience that includes more than 25 years in mobile core networking. Our strong track record, technical capabilities and expertise in both network and computing domains, allowed us to bring high-quality 5G core to virtualization and cloud-native technology. NEC and Intel have a long-term relationship in the hardware business, including CPUs and NICs (Network Interface Cards), and have jointly enhanced the acceleration technology for virtualization, represented by the DPDK (Data Plane Development Kit). NEC performed significant optimization and improvements to pursue higher performance for the cloud-native UPF. In the future, we will continue to contribute to society through 5G in Japan and around the world leveraging the results of this project.”

“The fully virtualized Rakuten mobile network featuring NEC’s containerized 5G UPF software built on the latest Intel technology is another key proof point of how ecosystem collaboration and industry leading technology are both essential to fulfill the promise of 5G,” said Dan Rodriguez, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel’s Network Platforms Group. “The ongoing development and optimization work among the companies on the latest 3rd Gen Intel Xeon Scalable processors and Intel Ethernet 800 Series network adapters not only provides outstanding performance, but the added flexibility to run workloads from core to edge that are designed to offer the best experience for end users.”

Rakuten Mobile and NEC started jointly developing an open, fully containerized SA 5G core network in June 2020 to be utilized in Rakuten Mobile’s mobile network in Japan and made available within RCP.

In the RAN domain, NEC is also providing 5G radio units (5G RU) for Rakuten Mobile’s network in Japan, and recently, Rakuten Mobile and NEC announced the broadening of their collaboration to provide 5G and 4G radios and engineering services for Open RAN systems aligned with O-RAN specifications for global markets, and accelerate the global expansion of the RCP.

Through the joint development of the open and fully cloud native containerized SA 5G core network, Rakuten Mobile and NEC aim to drive innovation in global mobile technology and provide high-quality 5G network technology to customers in Japan and around the world.

Comment and Analysis:

In an email to this author earlier this year, Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin wrote: “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 specifications.”

Dell’Oro Group’s Dave Bolan via an email this week:  “All of 5G Core will be Cloud-Native, mostly Container-based. Except there are different cloud-native versions and container versions, not making it truly open. Anyone that wants to put their core on the public cloud will have to customize it for each cloud platform. Same may be true for the NFVI if it runs on – x86, AMD, ARM, or Nvidia – and couple that with the different UPF acceleration techniques, it gets complex very quickly.”

Alex Quach, VP of Intel’s Data Platforms Group, said most operators around the world are still leveraging a 4G core network.  “The way different service providers implement their 5G core is going to vary,” said Quach. “Every service provider has unique circumstances. The transition to a new 5G core is going to be different for every operator.”

How could 5G SA possibly be open if there are no standards or implementation specs for 5G cloud native core network or true 5G functions like network slicing?

The result will be multiplicity of 5G SA carrier specific software running on different cloud service provider (CSP) compute servers.  Note also that each CSP has their own set of APIs and different cloud configurations will be used for the 5G cloud native core network.  The upshot is that changing a 5G SA software vendor or cloud service provider will be a huge problem for 5G network operators.  Again, that’s because of the proprietary nature of 5G SA deployments in the absence of 5G core network standards/open implementation specs.

What’s worse is that this will have a huge negative impact on PORTABLE/GEOGRAPHICALLY MOBILE 5G endpoints, like smartphones, tablets, notebook computers, gaming consoles, etc.  As each network provider’s 5G core network will be different, a unique, carrier specific 5G core download will be required for 5G endpoints for each 5G SA core network provider.

That will severely restrict portability/mobility to within a single carrier serving area and effectively prevent 5G SA roaming.  For example, Samsung is providing 5G SA network downloads for its smartphones that operate on T-MobileUS 5G SA network. But those downloads won’t work on any other 5G SA network, so the truly mobile user will fall back to 4G-LTE whenever he or she is outside T-MobileUS’s carrier service area.

If the major use of 5G SA/Core network is industrial applications that don’t move or move ONLY within 5G carrier serving area, that isn’t a problem.  But it certainly is for a 5G device a business traveler takes with him or her when on the road as it will fall back to 4G-LTE if 5G service from his or her carrier is not available.
Parting Shot:
It’s amazing to this author that the FOR PROFIT MAINSTREAM MEDIA (MSM) have neglected or glossed over the 5G SA core network interoperability problem and lack of 5G SA roaming.  In fact, we haven’t seen much of ACTUAL (vs MOUs) 5G NSA roaming.  Does that even exist?
They have also ignored the “sleight of hand” used by ITU-R in M.2130 (formerly known as IMT 2020 RAN/RIT/SRIT) where the URLLC use case performance requirements are not met.  Nor is there an approved companion recommendation (M.1036 revision 6) which specifies 5G frequency arrangements, especially for mmWave which has been a very controversial topic for ITU-R WP 5D.
Similarly, no one from the MSM has called attention to 3GPP Release 16 (frozen in June 2020) URLLC in the RAN spec not being completed or performance tested.
The IEEE Techblog continues to be a voice in the wilderness, busting myths and exposing false claims while negating most of the 5G hype on use cases, ultra low latency, 5G SA core network, network slicing, etc.





6 thoughts on “Why It’s Important: Rakuten Mobile, Intel and NEC collaborate on containerized 5G SA core network

  1. Related: Rakuten to use Cisco routing tech for 5G, IoT services

    Rakuten Mobile said on Friday that it plans to use new routing technologies from Cisco to expand its capacity to support business customers with 5G and Internet of Things (IoT) services. Rakuten Mobile, with 4 million subscribers, will use the new technology to make the entire network more automated to deploy services faster, reduce latency and lower power consumption.

    “We are going big into enterprise now, in a very elegant cost-efficient manner, without having to incur cost addition,” Chief Technology Officer Tareq Amin told analysts on a telephone call.


    1. I wonder if the Cisco routing technology will be virtualized and run on the same servers (or same kinds of servers) as Rakuten Mobile’s 5G Stand Alone (SA)? In other words, is there any Cisco hardware involved in this deal?

  2. Cloud-native platform specialist Robin.io, a key technology supplier to alternative Japanese mobile operator Rakuten Mobile, has raised $38 million in a Series C round of funding that was led by Rakuten Capital. The round takes Robin.io’s total funding to $86 million.

    The vendor’s networking-oriented Kubernetes platform is designed to run radio access network (RAN), core, edge and other cloud-native applications being deployed by network operators, and is being used by Rakuten Mobile for its Open RAN-based 5G network.

    “Robin.io has proven to be an outstanding technology partner to Rakuten Mobile, which established the world’s first cloud-native 5G network running on the Robin Cloud Native Platform,” noted Oskar Mielczarek de la Miel, managing partner at Rakuten Capital.

    “The accelerating adoption of Kubernetes and cloud-native technologies, as well as the accelerating pace of global 5G and edge rollouts has provided the backdrop for Robin’s competitive success in the past year,” stated Partha Seetala (pictured above), founder and CEO at Robin.io. “Armed with strong market awareness, a broad choice of deployment options and proven successes in massive-scale production environments, Robin.io is well poised for the next phase of market expansion and will continue to invest in product leadership and hire talent across sales, engineering and tech support functions. This Series C round is perfectly timed to support these goals,” added Seetala, who discussed the company’s role in the industry in this TelecomTV interview late least year.

    The investment strengthens the relationship between Rakuten and Robin.io and makes it a near certainty that the cloud-native platform vendor’s software will feature as part of the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), which is being developed by Rakuten Mobile to provide key technology elements to other network operators around the world that are building Open RAN-based networks.

    It also raises the prospect that Robin.io might adopt an open source software development strategy, something that Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin has hinted at in the past.

    Taking on new funding isn’t Robin.io’s only development of late: The company has also struck a strategic partnership with data centre server manufacturer Quanta Cloud Technology (QCT) to “jointly offer solutions that significantly reduce the costs, complexities and deployment times for mobile network operators (MNOs) and communication service providers (CSPs) rolling out next-gen networks and services,” with a focus on the “expedited deployment of cloud-native mobile core networks in an operationally optimized solution,” according to this joint announcement.

    It’s worth noting that QCT is also a key technology supplier to Rakuten Mobile.

    – Ray Le Maistre, Editorial Director, TelecomTV


  3. Rakuten Mobile launched full-scale commercial service on its 4G Open RAN network in April 2020 and aims to achieve 96% population coverage by the end of 2021. Altiostar developed the cloud-native, Kubernetes-based Open vRAN software that Rakuten Mobile used to build the network. The network is an industry-first for using cloud native software that converts Open vRAN network elements, including distributed units (DUs) and centralized units (CUs), into containerized applications that are fast to deploy, can be individually upgraded and offer better network scalability.

    “Winning these prestigious awards for such an innovative architecture is an important validation of Open RAN and a milestone for the industry,” said Ashraf Dahod, President and CEO of Altiostar. “I extend heartfelt congratulations to the entire Rakuten Mobile team. We are honored to partner with them, and this is great recognition for a team that had the vision for a new mobile network design in Japan and the boldness to pursue that vision.”

  4. Ericsson and Vodafone deploy 5G Core Standalone for precommercial operation in Spain

    The 5G Core Standalone solution will enable Vodafone to unlock the full potential of 5G, and represents a critical milestone to deliver 5G Standalone connectivity services in Spain.

    Vodafone Spain has selected Ericsson as their technology partner to deploy the first precommercial network 5G Core Standalone (SA) in Spain and will support their entire cloud-native 5G Core for standalone 5G network applications included in this launch. Ericsson’s dual-mode 5G Core will allow Vodafone to develop and test new use cases leveraging the characteristics of 5G standalone technology, enabling their customers to experience 5G’s full potential.

    The simplified SA architecture in RAN and the devices, together with streamlined operations and combined with the new network capabilities from 5G, will bring drastic improvements to mobile networks, including ultra-low latency, improved 5G capacity and greater coverage. The provided dual-mode 5G Core solution which includes products from Ericsson’s Cloud Packet Core and Cloud Unified Data Management and Policy portfolios, offers a common multi-access and cloud-native platform that supports 5G and as well as previous generations for optimized footprint and TCO efficiency.

    The solution provides full integration and interoperability with current Vodafone’s network. It also provides interworking with Vodafone’s existing Evolved Packet Core (EPC), Vodafone CDR Repository and Ericsson User Data Consolidation solution, with the aim to provide 4G/5G services interoperability for seamless experience to Vodafone Spain users.

    Luisa Muñoz, head of Digital Services, Ericsson Iberia, says: “After many years of outstanding collaboration between the two companies in the different Core technologies now we have moved forward with the introduction of 5G Core and we’re continuing to support Vodafone on their digital journey. With 5G Core SA, we’re taking 5G to the next level in Spain. 5G Core is a fundamental piece of the 5G network and I’m looking forward to seeing the multitude of opportunities this will open up for mobile users and industries.”

    Julia Velasco, Network Director, Vodafone Spain, says: “This pilot is a critical step towards delivering the full potential of 5G service, as well as being crucial in enabling new and innovative use cases. Thanks to our long-standing and close partnership with Ericsson and the 5G Core SA solution, we can support applications requiring the fastest connectivity, highest data rates and lowest latency demand.”


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