News in Brief: Rakuten looks to global sales, Nokia pauses O-RAN activities

August is often cited as the silly season when not much happens – but not this year writes Contributing Editor Annie Turner.

Rakuten Group had a busy August. Early in the month Rakuten Group introduced Rakuten Symphony which unites its telecoms operations across Japan, the US, Singapore, India, Europe, the Middle East and Africa under a single banner “to offer 4G and 5G infrastructure and platform solutions to customers worldwide”. It also announced the acquisition of virtual RAN innovator Altiostar.

The new national 5G German operator, 1&1 is Symphony’s first customer. Rakuten will take over the build of the active network equipment and will also be responsible for the overall performance of the 1&1 mobile network, which naturally will be based on OpenRAN technology. 1&1 will have access to the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) stack of access, core, cloud and operations solutions as well as to its partner network. Rakuten will also provide its orchestration software to support highly automated operations. Work on Europe’s first fully virtualized network is to start in Q4, although Telefonica Deutschland has also worked closely with Rakuten Mobile and claims to be the first German operator running Open RAN.

As we suggested, Rakuten is looking to success as a vendor to drive global growth with its Japanese network and business as a kind of massive, real-life, proof of concept. Tareq Amin has been named as Symphony’s CEO. Amin began his famous association with the group as CTO of Rakuten Mobile which is building the world’s first fully virtualized network in Japan. The plan is to disrupt the staid Japanese market in the way that Reliance Jio (with Amin in charge of tech development and automation) turned the Indian market on its head.

However, the Japanese market is proving a tougher nut to crack. On 23 August Rakuten Mobile announced that the combined number of subscribers for its mobile operator and MVNO service passed 5 million, but on 11 August, Rakuten Group’s numbers for the previous two quarters showed its losses had risen by some 85% to about $900 million with the cost of the Japanese mobile network decimating profits. Some analysts reckon the operator needs 20 million customers to break even.

Japan’s biggest mobile operator, NTT DoCoMo has 80 million customers and last year made about $25 billion from mobile services. Rakuten Group’s CEO, Mickey (Hiroshi) Mikitani, thinks the addressable global telecoms market – selling software and expertise to new and existing telcos – is worth up to $100 billion annually rising to as much as $150 billion by 2025. No wonder the vendor side is looking mighty attractive right now, even if some are already saying this is an optimistic value and pointing to fierce competitors – with proven track records.

Politico reported that Nokia has paused its work in the O-RAN Alliance, where it has wielded considerable influence, due to concerns that it could be penalised by US authorities for working with Chinese firms Kindroid, Phytium and Inspur. The three are blacklisted by Washington as they are considered a threat to American national security and are believed to have close ties to the Chinese military. The O-RAN Alliance was founded in February 2018 by AT&T, China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, NTT DOCOMO and Orange.

There are fears that others could follow Nokia’s lead, but not everyone will consider this disastrous. Last September, Caroline Gabriel, founder of Rethink Research, warned of the risk that the Alliance could be dominated by “large incumbent vendors” and would not succeed. She suggested the Open Networking Foundation’s own software-defined RAN project could usurp it. At the same time, Ericsson, a large incumbent vendor that largely eschewed the Alliance, warned of security risks.

Still with Nokia, Asiacell Telecom appointed the Finnish vendor to build a new microwave network to boost the Iraqi mobile operator’s network capacity and cut its latency. Nokia will replace or modernise legacy microwave kit and create 3,000 network links across in Iraq over the next five years. Asiacell will use its existing Nokia network services platforms (NSP) to manage the complete set of Nokia transport equipment. This is designed to enable quick commissioning of equipment, fine-tuning the network and automation of operations. In January Asiacell selected Nokia to provide nationwide network optimisation for two years.

IBM and Verizon are to create a testbed in Texas to develop and trial 5G applications for industrial environments including robotics, guided vehicles, manufacturing process automation, visual quality inspection, and data analytics. Verizon’s 5G Edge service, which relies on Amazon Web Services’ Wavelength edge compute service, is available in 13 of the US’ top 20 largest markets. Customers will be invited to the lab to create business-specific applications.

Worldwide spending on big data and business analytics (BDA) solutions is forecast to reach $215.7 billion (€183.643 billion) this year, an increase of 10.1% over 2020, according to a new update to the Worldwide Big Data and Analytics Spending Guide from International Data Corporation (IDC). The forecast also shows that BDA spending will gain strength over the next five years as the global economy recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. The compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for global BDA spending over the 2021-2025 forecast period will be 12.8%. Telecoms will see the fastest growth in BDA spending over the five-year forecast,