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Rakuten Mobile: Starting difficulties with the first Open RAN 5G network

Last updated on October 1, 2020

Rakuten’s Open RAN 5G network is not only slower than hoped and not widely available, it is also only supported by very few smartphones .

Smartphone für das neue 5G-Netz von Rakuten Mobile
Smartphone for the new 5G network from Rakuten Mobile (Image: Rakuten Mobile)

The new Japanese mobile operator Rakuten Mobile has launched its 5G network. The company announced on September 30, 2020 . But the 5G service is initially only offered to a limited extent in some parts of Tokyo, Kanagawa, Saitama, Hokkaido, Osaka and Hyogo. Nikkei News reports that there have already been disruptions in the 4G service that was launched in April 2020. Rakuten did not provide any information on the number of 5G antennas.

The three established network operators NTT Docomo, KDDI and Softbank are attacked by the e-commerce group Rakuten. Rakuten’s 5G costs 2,980 yen ($ 28) per month plus taxes, around half the price of the country’s three largest wireless carriers. Unlimited data and calls are offered on the Rakuten network, but there are restrictions on roaming on the KDDI network that Rakuten has selected as its roaming partner.

With LTE, Rakuten has almost 3,500 base stations. With 5G there is no roaming contract with KDDI. When asked about this, Yoshihisa Yamada, President at Rakuten, told the online magazine Light Reading that this would offer little benefit because KDDI’s 5G service is also not very well developed.

The special thing about the cellular network is that it should be based on Open RAN. Open RAN means cloud, virtualized network elements, white box hardware, open source software and standardized interfaces. The suppliers’ proprietary chips are to be largely dispensed with. As Golem.de has learned from informed circles, the 4G network from Rakuten Mobile is largely built with proprietary technology from Nokia.

According to Rakuten, the 5G network should be 30 to 40 percent cheaper to buy. However, according to information from Golem.de, this is followed by higher costs for the integration and operation of the network, which nullifies the advantage again. “Finances are Rakuten’s weakness ,” a Japanese analyst told Nikkei News. Despite the company’s virtualization technology, it is expected to have to spend around 800 billion yen ($ 7.6 billion) on its cellular network by March 2029.

Rakuten has promised to roll out 5G in every prefecture by the end of March next year. The switch from a Cisco 4G core to an NEC standalone 5G core should take place by the second quarter.

The company introduced 5G with a spectrum of sub-6 GHz as well as in the millimeter wave range. Antenna locations with Intel chips developed by NEC are used for sub-6 GHz. The high-band services are based on RAN from Airspan, a US company, and contain Qualcomm chips.

Despite the introduction of services in this potentially high data rate area, Rakuten’s 5G network can initially only deliver a data rate of 870 Mbit / s. Tareq Amin, Chief Technology Officer of Rakuten Mobile, has stated that 2 Gbit / s will be possible in the future.

Smartphones for the 5G network are also hardly available: With the Big, Rakuten has launched its own device that uses the Android operating system and costs 660 US dollars. Customers can also use a 5G smartphone from Sharp, the Aquos R5G.

In India, Jio Infocomm, part of Milleshair Mukesh Ambanis Reliance Industries, has managed to capture a large market share with a similar low-cost approach. The company has recorded 388 million mobile phone customers since it was founded four years ago – more than any other network operator in the country. In contrast to the competition, the mobile phone providers Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea and BSNL-MTNL, Jio operates neither in the 2G nor in the 3G network . Instead, LTE technology and an FTTH network are used to offer services on the go and at home.

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