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Interview with Ajit Pai: Open RAN will democratize next-generation telecommunications

  • June 29, 2022
  • , NIKKEI Business Daily , p. 5
  • JMH Translation

Rakuten Symphony is taking its telecommunications infrastructure technology to overseas markets. The company will market its unique “virtualization” technology, which replaces telecommunications equipment with cloud-based software. A German telecommunications company will adopt the technology, and a U.S. telecommunications company has agreed to cooperate with Rakuten Symphony. Nikkei Business Daily’s Saijo Akiko interviewed Ajit Pai, former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) chairperson, who joined Rakuten Symphony’s board of directors in April 2022. 


Nikkei Business (NB): You joined Rakuten Symphony’s board of directors in April.


Pai: During my tenure as FCC chairperson, I took note of Rakuten Symphony’s Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN) technology, which enables users to combine equipment from different vendors to create a mobile network base station. I believe that Rakuten Symphony’s “virtualization” technology has the potential to revolutionize global communications infrastructure because it combines inexpensive general-purpose equipment with cloud-based software to create telecommunications networks.


NB: What are the other benefits of Open RAN?


Pai: Users will be able to use various vendors’ equipment in their network base stations. They will no longer have to exclusively use the equipment of a particular seller. This will lead to a 30-40% reduction in the cost of developing and managing networks. Currently, only users in developed nations make use of 5G and other next-generation networks because they are so expensive. Open RAN uses network-based software so we can democratize next-generation technology with it because we can provide technology at a lower cost.


Security threats have also arisen from relying on equipment from single vendors. Eliminating the need for outsourcing will enhance security.


NB: How do foreign companies view Rakuten Symphony’s technology?


Pai:  Rakuten Symphony is considered a top player. No other company offers a full package of virtualized base station tools. The Rakuten Group also offers technological advantages. It also has acquired Altiostar Networks, a developer of software for virtualized base stations. I think we are a leader in this field, especially in the U.S.


Another strength of Rakuten Symphony is its global expansion capabilities. We have  received an order from German telecommunications provider “1&1” for communications infrastructure. Our technologies have already been proven in Japan. This is important. Global operators will need to adopt only proven technologies, so we offer the unique advantage of speed of introduction.


NB: What companies will you compete with?


Pai: Although we do not envision direct competitors in the sense of companies that provide a full package of tools for virtualized base stations, more and more companies are developing targeted tools with Open RAN, including U.S. corporations. As competition intensifies, we will need to strengthen our innovation capabilities to produce inexpensive tools more quickly.


NB: How will the telecommunications industry change?


Pai: It is not easy for large vendors that have been doing hardware-based, long-term contract-based businesses to change. A software-based open approach will be a game changer that eliminates “vendor lock-in” or dependencies on particular vendors such as Sweden’s Ericsson and Finland’s Nokia.

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