Altiostar gets big RAN win in Rakuten’s virtual network showcase

Altiostar and Cisco go to market in vRAN, with Nokia providing RRHs, virtual core and deployment and operational wrap-around.

The virtual radio access network for Rakuten’s brand new mobile network in Japan will be provided by Altiostar. The vRAN company, which has just taken a strategic investment from the operator, will provide all the virtual Central and Distributed units (vCUs, vDUs) within the RAN.

Altiostar’s Head of Strategy and Exec VP, Thierry Maupile, told TMN, “This is the first time this has been done and at this pace – the first time for a fully virtualised L1-3 vRAN. We are taking advantage of the excellent fibre estate in Japan, putting all the base station on an edge cloud.”

Maupile said Rakuten would have 4,000 deployment points for vDUs, with two centralised data centres. “Altiostar software will provide a fully virtualised RAN on an edge cloud NFVi, with Open Stack and Cisco NFVi and VIMs,” he added.

vCUs and vDUs are the decomposed, virtualised elements of the mobile radio baseband that carry out radio processing functions. They connect forward to Remote Radio Heads over fronthaul links and back to the core over backhaul connections. (The connection between a CU and DU is known as midhaul.)

Rakuten released news this week of progress on its network rollout. The Japanese ISP is making a new entrance as a mobile network operator with licensed spectrum, and has targeted October 2019 for its launch.

As it is building a greenfield network, and as it already manages considerable physical compute assets, and as its CTO is the hard-charging ex-Jio technology lead Tareq Amin, it is not surprising its network rollout plans read like a ticklist of state of the art mobile network technology.

The company is planning a virtualised RAN and core network, making use of edge sites for vDUs, plus automated operations and orchestration of a multi-vendor network with a mix of players providing the core and RAN Virtual Network Functions (VNFs).

In its release Rakuten names the following as partners: Cisco Systems, Nokia, Altiostar Networks, Intel, Red Hat, OKI, Fujitsu, Ciena, NEC/Netcracker, Qualcomm, Mavenir, Quanta Cloud Technology, Sercomm, Tech Mahindra, Allot, Innoeye, and Viavi.

Altiostar was the first to press release its involvement – pointing out also that Rakuten has also taken a strategic investment in the company. Intel and Nokia have both since followed.

The Rakuten network uses a virtualised radio access network running on Intel Xeon processor-based servers from Quanta, support radio access technology from Altiostar and core network software from Cisco

Nokia mentions its  role as “Turnkey” deployment partner. It says it will provide deployment and integration of the new radio network leveraging a ‘zero footprint’ site approach with remote radio heads connected to cloud RAN software on the edge cloud. That cloud RAN software, we know now, will be Altiostar’s. Nokia will be providing its AirScale RRHs as well as some vIMS functions and its AirGile core.

Its 5G marketing lead Jane Rygaard told TMN that the rollout was about enabling true automated operations and orchestration, enabled by a cloud native architecture with hardware and software separation, operating with a common data layer. That would enable automation across domains, she said, not just within discreet RAN, backhaul, core domains.

Intel’s release confirmed the RAN-core software providers, stating, “The Rakuten network uses a virtualised radio access network running on Intel Xeon processor-based servers from Quanta, support radio access technology from Altiostar and core network software from Cisco, providing a network that is fully virtualised from RAN to core.”

One aspect perhaps of note is that although Rakuten has mentioned an Open vRAN in passing, it is not adopting any formal specs from the likes of O-RAN Alliance or TIP. Open refers to the open API nature of the RAN platforms, allowing for multi vendor RRH to vRAN connections, as well as back to orchestration and automation platforms.

Altiostar’s Maupile said the company was still tracking the various open RAN forums, but was more interested in staying close to operators that are pushing forward on the open vRAN.

If anything, with the involvement of Cisco, TechMahindra, AltioStar, Red Hat and Intel, this looks like a score for Cisco and its Open RAN ecosystem approach, in which it brings together “Open RAN” players but not in any formal, specifications-based manner. Many of the Cisco ecosystem players and Rakuten’s vendor list overlap.

Altiostar further announced this week that it is working with Qualcomm to co-develop RAN software for small cells, leveraging Qualcomm’s small cell-based chipsets. It is not clear if Altiostar envisages developing software for decomposed virtual small cells, and/or if it is developing enhanced an RAN software stack to provide to OEM developers of small cells that use Qualcomm chipsets.

How Rakuten trumpeted its network mission in its February 2019 results briefing.

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