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Rakuten Group turns to India for OpenRAN, cloud, and 6G innovation hub

Japan’s Rakuten Group is using India as a major global innovation and engineering hub for OpenRAN, cloud and 6G development and is planning to hire more engineers this year across its three research and development (R&D) centres. Through its subsidiary, Rakuten Symphony, the group is looking to partner with Indian telecom operators to help with OpenRAN 5G and small-cell deployments.

Rakuten Symphony houses the group’s telecom and networking technologies and IPs.

“India is going to be the major global innovation and engineering centre for us, especially for Rakuten Symphony,” Sharad Sriwastawa, co-Chief Executive Officer of Rakuten Mobile and President of Rakuten Symphony, told Moneycontrol in his first media interaction since he took over the role in August 2023.

“All the acquisitions we did in the past, including Altiostar and Robin.io, had R&D centres in India. And we have created a big lab in India, which is now being used by all business units,” he said.

Rakuten Symphony has around 4,000 employees worldwide, with the majority based in their India offices in Bangalore, Indore and Pune. Other key offices are in Germany (to support the 1&1 mobile network deployment), in Japan (to help the operations within Rakuten Mobile), and in the United States.

“…close to 85 percent of Symphony employees are in India. We are hiring in India, mainly for cloud and ORAN development. We have started focusing on 6G development. As we offshore more operations and add more customers globally, we expand the local force to support them through NOC centres,” the top executive said.

6G focus
Rakuten has started working with Indian Institutes of Technologies (IITs) on 6G technology. “We are working with IITs on the cloud and observability sides of 6G.”

Prime Minister Narendra Modi released India’s 6G vision “Bharat 6G Vision” document last year, which envisages India to be a frontline contributor in developing, developing, and deploying 6G technology by 2030. India aims for 10 percent of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) in the 6G domain.

Following this, global telecom companies like Ericsson and Nokia set up their R&D teams to work on 6G in India.

All multinational telecom companies expect India to play a big role and become a strong base for 6G research and development (R&D) and application development in the coming years.

Eyeing OpenRAN deals
Globally, Rakuten Symphony has three large greenfield 5G deployment deals with telecom operators, including German telco 1&1 and US telco Dish. The executive said the company now focuses on getting OpenRAN deals from global brownfield operators, including telecom operators in India.

“OpenRAN is the defect technology for Greenfield deployments. Many large telcos, including the Vodafone Group and Telefonica, have done trials and run proof of concepts. After the AT&T deal with Ericsson for OpenRAN, all other telcos have accelerated their plans to introduce OpenRAN in their networks,” Sriwastawa said.

The company is open to starting discussions with older Indian telecom operators Bharti Airtel and Vodafone Idea for OpenRAN-related 5G deployments, Srivastava said.

“…we just started the discussion with Airtel. Their first phase of 5G is almost done. Depending on their OpenRAN strategy, we will proceed,” he said.

Rakuten already works with the Sunil Mittal-led telco for small-cell deployment in the country. “It’s a small deployment. But now, Indian telco’s focus on small cells is increasing to support the 5G network. We will make pitches again in the small cell space in India.”

The Japanese company will also initiate talks with cash-strapped telco Vodafone Idea for OpenRAN 5G deployment.

Cash-strapped Vodafone Idea is exploring both OpenRAN and vRAN technologies to reduce the cost of deployment for its upcoming 5G network. Last year, it began a proof of concept (PoC) with Korea’s Samsung for virtualised RAN or VRAN and Mavenir for OpenRAN-based 5G network.

Private 5G and Cloud opportunity
Rakuten Symphony is also doubling down on the private 5G opportunity. It has partnered with Tech Mahindra, Infosys and Cognizant to use their sales force to sell its solutions to enterprises.

“We will have a go-to-market solid strategy in 2024. Previously, we discussed tapping the opportunity in the private 5G space in India with Cisco. However, not much is happening in India. However, we can fully support private 5G opportunities in the country,” the executive said.

While the private 5G opportunity is some time away for Rakuten Symphony, it immediately wants to tap the cloud market in India with the help of its acquisition of Robin.io. It competes with the likes of VMware in the cloud space.

“…we are working with many partners in the cloud. Okay. Some companies are not going to the public cloud but are big enough to have their private cloud…there is a big play in India for that. Globally, it has gained good traction, and we are trying to get almost all the big tier-one operators,” he said. Moneycontrol

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