Counting the numbers in Rakuten’s mobile radio network

Here's the number of radio-antenna units from different suppliers that Rakuten has deployed in its 4G and 5G network.

With its multi-vendor RAN network, Rakuten has led the way in a widescale deployment of an open vRAN.

One area of interest for network equipment spotters has been the level of involvement of its various partners.

Today, as part of wider media and market briefings, Rakuten released a slide showing how many radio units it has deployed from each of its vendors, and it makes interesting (*ymmv) viewing.

Rakuten said that it now has 44,000 outdoor 4G base stations deployed, while it has 270,00 radio-antenna units deployed in total, including small cells, femtocells and its 5G rollout.

The left hand side illustrates its initial 4G rollout, which initally relied on Nokia radioheads bolted to KMW antennas. Although a phase two rollout dropped the Nokia radiohead for an integrated unit with KMW, engineered by Flex, the Nokia RRH-to-KMW antenna build does seem to have been the workhorse of the initial 4G rollout, with 85,000 units deployed. That said, the phase two product has also totalled a hefty 31,000 shipments into the network. That 4G rollout now covers 90% of Japan’s population, Rakuten said, which puts it four years ahead of its own schedule – it is also supported by a pretty healthy number of enterprise and residential femtocells from Sercomm.

On the right, you can see the more recent 5G deployments, which include over 13,000 mmWave DRUs from Airspan (based on the Qualcomm mmWavechipset), as well as 8,000+ sub 6GHz units from NEC. The NEC 5G NR AAU is based on Intel FPGAs in the massive mimo panel, with Intel CPUs doing L2 processing. The Airspan mmWave DRU – remember that’s a mmMwave micro cell that combines the antennas with a vDU in the same box that then connects back to Altiostar’s vCU – has the Qualcomm FSM100xx module for RFIC, modem and the radio baseband, with an Intel CPU to manage L2 processing.

Rakuten CTO Tariq Amin said that the company was now going to accelerate its 5G deployment. One of its drivers for that is that it has way more spectrum in these bands than in 4G, where it is pretty limited. So it will give it a big capacity boost, as well as being able to offload LTE traffic.

Cloud evolution

Unseen in this image is an evolution that Rakuten has made in its underlying cloud platform – the bit that here that sits under the Altiostar vRAN. At launch, the company used an OpenStack based VM with Cisco and Red Hat. But now it is moving to a cloud architecture based on its Robin.io acquisition, with cloud workloads as true CNFs.

Amin said, “In 5G we moved away from Cisco VIM to SymCloud, our own platform, inherited through the acquisition of Robin.io. We have seen unbelievable benefits the minute we moved from VMs to true cloud native CNFs. Now the migration of moving 4G networks to our own cloud has started and my anticipation is that from Q1 next year, 100% every workload be CNFs, microservices, orchestrated by our own RakutenSymphony orchestrator running on a 100% indigenous developed cloud environment.”

As for that headlining staff number, Amin confirmed that the 250 is the number of IMS, packet core and radio engineers that “touch” the network, involved in configuration, fault management, monitoring etc. Amin equated it roughly to Level1 to Level3 engineers – it is not a total staff number for the whole netops business.

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