1&1 Drillisch to out-do partner Rakuten

1&1 makes 5(G) in Germany, as operator leans on Rakuten know-how to go one better than Japanese partner.

1&1 Drillisch’s mobile network will be better than Rakuten’s in Japan, according to Rakuten Symphony CEO and Rakuten Group CTO Tareq Amin.

German MVNO 1&1 is building a greenfield network in the country as it becomes a fully fledged MNO, having acquired spectrum at 2100 MHz, 2600 MHz and 3.5 GHz, where it has a 50 MHz allocation. To do so, it has entered into a deep working partnership with Rakuten Symphony, the company that Rakuten created to package and commercialise its know-how in building Open RAN and cloud–based networks.

Tareq Amin, Rakuten Symphony’s CEO, said that 1&1 would be able to benefit not just from Rakuten’s experience in Open RAN, but what it has learnt in terms of physical deployment and in automated operations. Most important for Amin in terms of challenging telco culture, it can apply the principles of automation and software-driven configuration that Rakuten has developed to design a self-healing, self-organising network.

Amin said, “We have found a counterpart in 1&1. The mindset that they come with is amazing and I think we will do something even better than we have done in Japan. Amin said 1&1 would be able to build on Rakuten’s own practices in “how we gather data, automate Day 0, Day1 and implement intelligence in the fabric of the network.

“Believe me, 1&1 will  build a network in Germany that I think will be superior architecturally to what exists in the market today, bringing a technology stack that is more advanced than what he had at Rakuten. We are bringing a new market place process in which we want to consolidate all of the applications that are needed to engineer, operate and maintain this network.”

“We are three and a half years into building the mobile network in Japan. It was not easy, it was not simple, every day was lessons learned. And we said if we ever get an opportunity to package what we have learned, we want to do something better than we have done in Japan, to drive a new vision of cloud and the network as cloud. Open RAN is one pillar of that but it’s just one element of what we want to do.”

Amin said that just as important as Open RAN technology – which he said now uncontestably works – is Rakuten’s work in building a single, robust, scaleable data platform that sits at the heart of automation and operational flexibility.

“Having one data platform eliminates all the vendor EMS. For four years I have been asking myself what we can do differently if we get a chance somewhere else. I think Symphony has a big aspiration on changing the way we build an active, agile, affordable and modern networks. The day will come when upgrading this network will no longer require massive hardware upgrades, we should be able to drive agility through software. The partnership we have [with 1&1] is very important for Europe but also for the world as well.”

Michael Martin, CEO, Drillisch Netz and Director Mobile Radio Network, 1&1 Telecommunication, said that the operator and Rakuten are working with total open book transparency on cost – something Amin also said was revolutionary (“Wouldn’t you like to know the true cost of your hardware?”).

Martin said his key challenges are more practical than technical – getting access to sites and permissions and authority for the 12,000 sites it wants to build. To that end, he said the growth of the Towerco model in Germany is a help, as tower companies are now motivated to get more tenants on their sites. Secondly, Martin wants to get his hands on some low band frequency to supplement the mid bands he has. 1&1 is targeting an upcoming 800 MHz auction in the country for that.

The MVNO already has 10 million customers, Martin said, and providing them with a better service has been the driver to build out its own network infrastructure. It must reach 25% population coverage with 5G by 2025, and 40% by 2030. It will also rely on a national roaming agreement with Telefonica O2.

He said that although he joined 1&1 from Sunrise, where the operator relied on building 5G using “legacy” technology from Huawei, he would tell his former self to be more bold about considering Open RAN.

The whole industry needs to be bold and allow themselves to go the next step which is clearly Open RAN,” Martin said, as he admitted that he is offering advice that he may not have followed in his brownfield role. 

When I was in my previous role I was facing the same questions and being asked when we will do the next step and go OpenRAN – and we were always hesitating, simply as we have been building a very high quality network based on legacy technology. Of course we were proud of what we  achieved and the last thing we wanted to do was destroy it by bringing a new concept.

“But still I would advise my former self to be bold, to look into it and go into the first live pilots and gain the first experiences.

“Now with all of that, I need to underline so far I haven’t built anything here in Germany yet. We have still only concepts, and have just started so have not achieved too much – yet. But with all the knowledge gained in the last four months, I am super confident and have no doubt in the technology and architecture. So I would really encourage every CTO to be bold in trying to figure out what the future provides for us. For the networks that don’t change, there will be a forced change in the future. I am more secure being a front runner than following.”