Rakuten Mobile driving world-first disruptive innovation

Engineering Topics
Rakuten Mobile driving world-first disruptive innovation

Project members who participated in the data transmission trial for the world's first fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network held on February 3, 2019

Changing the game in the telecommunications industry in ways only an IT company can

Rakuten Mobile, Inc. launched services in October 2019 as Japan's fourth mobile network operator (MNO). Ahead of this launch, the company built and successfully tested the world's first end-to-end fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network in February 2019. As the nation's fourth carrier, the company is making daily progress with the development of its own mobile network. This article takes a closer look at innovations in the telecommunications industry spearheaded by Rakuten Mobile's engineers, the impacts they will have around the world, and future possibilities, based on interviews with Rakuten Mobile's engineers. It also highlights the workplace environment where they are leading disruptive innovation.

Building an innovative mobile network faster than ever before

Rakuten Mobile Inc. (initial service provider: Rakuten, Inc.) launched Rakuten Mobile services as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) in October 2014. Today, the company boasts the largest market share of MVNO subscribers in Japan (*1). After its 1.7 GHz bandwidth spectrum allocation, the company turned its attention to building its own mobile network to launch services as an MNO. Unlike conventional carriers, however, Rakuten Mobile looked toward complete virtualization, from radio access network (RAN) to core mobile network, in a world-first venture by introducing the unique cloud technologies of an IT company. This involved building an environment where everything from data and voice communications on 4G and 5G networks to management and administration is done on the cloud. Preparations were made with the aim of building a high quality and highly cost-effective cloud network by separating hardware and software, together with partner companies inside and outside of Japan.

Rakuten Mobile only had two years to prepare for the launch of services as an MNO in October 2019. This would prove to be the shortest ever timeline for building a proprietary mobile network. Moreover, setting up a mobile network from scratch as a mobile carrier in Japan was a truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. the motivation of the engineers grew with each passing day, as they were working to achieve unprecedented development speed whilst simultaneously building the world's first innovative mobile network. The end goal was to not only provide a stable and high-quality mobile network to users as an MNO service, but also construct an open ecosystem using the flexibility of the cloud and achieve the ultimate user experience through rapid deployment of services.

(*1) "Used mainly for discount SIM services" per Mobile Marketing Data Labo's Discount SIM Service Usage Survey (March 2019)

Part of the 5G trial conducted at Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi (trial of user authentication technology using a drone)

An unprecedented undertaking that attracted the world's top engineering talent

The frontlines of Rakuten Mobile's development featured a collection of top engineering talent from world famous manufacturers and the telecommunications industry. Some of the top engineering talent in the world were drawn to this unprecedented challenge posed by Rakuten Mobile's project to build a truly innovative mobile network. Rakuten Mobile's engineers became a seamless team, working together across organizations to launch a new business with the same vision. Such a development environment brimming with the passion of being involved in a world-first project and dealing with truly cutting-edge information represents the ideal place for engineers always looking toward the next new technology.

Even at Mobile World Congress 2019, the world's largest mobile telecommunications trade fair, held in Barcelona, Spain in February 2019, Rakuten Mobile's undertaking received a great deal of attention, with companies from around the world asking many questions about the construction of a fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network and the progress of development. Unlike an ordinary network composed of specialized equipment and software, Rakuten Mobile was fully virtualizing necessary functions by isolating software on the cloud network housed using all-purpose servers. This greatly reduced the capital investment and operation costs. Furthermore, since a cloud network with isolated software and hardware does not rely on specialized equipment, alternatives are easily and readily available in case of a natural disaster or server problems, mitigating the risk of telecommunication interruptions. A network with such a feature could potentially spread across the entire telecommunications industry in the future. Rakuten Mobile's engineers pursued both "improved cost efficiency using the latest technologies" and a "high quality mobile network," which as a result has become a key strength of Rakuten Mobile.

Rakuten Cloud Innovation Laboratory, a next-generation network testing facility

Part of an antenna owned and operated by Rakuten Mobile

Becoming a member of a once-in-a-lifetime project team for setting up a new carrier business in Japan

Newly entering the MNO business carries great meaning for the Rakuten Group, which offers more than 70 services. This is because today, when many services such as Internet shopping and in-app purchases can be offered on smartphones, Rakuten Mobile's MNO business could serve as the gateway to Rakuten's many services. The chance to set up a new mobile carrier business, by combining cutting edge technologies from telecommunications and IT, and feel that sense of accomplishment, represented a valuable experience only possible at Rakuten Mobile. Even after this project, there will always be ample opportunities for engineers to share their ideas and technical prowess in the ongoing launch of new services.

Moreover, Rakuten Mobile is working steadily toward a number of milestones ahead of the launch of 5G services in June 2020, which will offer engineering talent valuable experience and a sense of accomplishment. Rakuten Mobile is committed to developing unprecedented services by quickly implementing the PDCA cycle to become a leader in innovations taking place in the telecommunications industry around the world. Rakuten Mobile is the place to be for engineers who want to work alongside some of the best in the industry to develop innovative services.

Development Environment & Support

Rakuten's Support System and Development Environment

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