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Ajit Pai joins Rakuten Symphony board of directors

Rakuten Symphony, the evolution of the Rakuten Communications Platform, has an anchor client in new German market entrant 1&1, has spelled out its goal to address a $100 billion market, and hit Mobile World Congress hard this week with updated portfolio branding.

In Japan, Rakuten Mobile built a world-first greenfield network using Open RAN, cloud-native and automation principles. After going through the process of multi-vendor integration, validation, deployment and optimization, Rakuten Mobile effectively bundled its hardare/software/SI approach into Rakuten Communications Platform. Rakuten Symphony is the new organization that is selling this package globally to other operators, enterprises and governments.

The recently launched Symware addresses the RAN piece and includes a range of products simplifying deployment and reducing total cost of ownership. Symworld is a modular, cloud-based operations platform that’s focused on zero touch automation and covers network planning, building and operation.

Ahead of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, RCR Wireless News caught up with Rakuten Symphony Chief Marketing Officer Geoff Hollingworth who joined the firm in November. Speaking of how Rakuten Symphony is packaging and presenting itself, he said, “When you meet Rakuten Symphony, it should feel a bit like picking up an iPhne or driving a Tesla. It feels like a premium experience and we want to make that experience very, very important.”

Hollingworth explained, “The first part of this journey is actually explaining to the industry and to the customers just the paradigm shift in the mental model. It’s moving the center of gravity away from hardware into software.” Symworld, he said, represents four years of learnings based on work done within Rakuten Mobile.

“We’ve taken the data that exists inside running a network and we use that as the DNA of all the applications around it,” Hollingworth said. “We have one common data understanding of the total operation from planning, to building, to securing, to monitoring, to operation. And then we have all of the customer sentiment on top of that.”

To the automation piece, Hollingworth said the philosophy is if something has to be done three times, it should be automated. He said Rakuten Mobile has gotten to the point where if something is done once and there’s the anticipation it will be done again, it’s automated. We also then start to digitalize the knowledge management of running networks. There’s a huge component of what we do around the capture of knowledge management both from an operational perspective and from the customer support perspective.”

Rakuten Symphony also announced this week that former U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is joining its board of directors. Pai chaired the FCC from 2017 to 2021 and now works at private equity firm Searchlight Capital. He had a busy tenure at the regulator working on making available CBRS spectrum for shared use, mmWave spectrum auctions, the merger of T-Mobile US and Sprint (and DISH’s market entrance), net neutrality, and the rip and replace program.

That last item has been a long road wherein the federal government has mandated carriers using some Chinese equipment, particularly gear from Huawei and ZTE, remove it from networks for security purposes. This mainly hits smaller rural and regional carriers who were attracted to Huawei’s price point. As this has played out, there has been significant lobbying that Open RAN should be slotted in with an emphasis on hardware and software from U.S.-based companies.

Along with the rip and replace mandate, the federal government also made plans to subsidize that process. To date, the FCC has received requests for more than $5.6 billion to bring domestic networks into compliance. That’s compared to the $1.9 billion in attendant funding. If Open RAN has a role to play, there’s a pressing need to reduce costs, and Rakuten Symphony says it can reduce capex and opex by more than 30%, there’d seem to be a play to hand.

Pai joins Amin and Rakuten Group CEO Hiroshi Mikitani on the newly-formed board. He said in a statement: “I have long been impressed by Rakuten’s vision for breaking through long standing barriers that have dictated how mobile networks are designed, built and deployed. Critically, Rakuten Symphony’s leading work in Open RAN, network automation and rapid network rollouts uniquely positions the company to help the broader mobile industry more urgently pursue highly competitive opportunities to redefine consumer and enterprise services delivery.” RCR Wireless

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