AT&T uses Rakuten software for huge network modernisation project

AT&T's network simplification and transformation project is also driving transformation of its site build software.

AT&T has been using site management software from Rakuten Symphony as it “simplifies” its network in anticipation of a move to a cloud-based RAN architecture.

Igal Elbaz, SVP, Network CTO, AT&T, said that AT&T is in the midst of a project called Network Simplifcation Transformation, during which it found that its existing planning, design and build process software was presenting problems, and involved staff working across several legacy systems.

Last year the operator announced Ericsson as its sole RAN vendor to “accelerate modernisation” in its wireless network and said it will use that opportunity to move into a Cloud RAN and Open RAN infrastructure. It has said it wants to see 70% of its traffic flow through “open hardware” by 2026. As it makes that move, it also needs to carry out the hard engineering work of removing existing equipment, upgrading, deploying and repurposing thousands of sites, as well as depoying new hardware underpinning its new architecture.

Elbaz said, “We keep talking about Open and Cloud RAN the excitement of the architecture – but real life is building the network. For a network of our size, nationwide across north America, that takes a lot of effort and planning. We were at the point in that process of site build and design that required us traversing several systems, many of them out there for several years. Rakuten Symphony said they could introduce agility and capabilities in that space, and we said let’s see what we can do – and to our great surprise we have made a lot of progress.”

Elbaz said that AT&T has achieved in 18 months progress that would normally take three to five years in a project of this sort  Rakuten Symphony’s Site Manager is now deployed as the deployment and construction tool in all AT&T’s markets, and there are now upwards of 7,000 users of the software within its own and contractor construction teams.

“There has been a lot of benefit already in the migration from the old systems to the new system. We’re adding all kinds of digitalisation of our sites, including through drone, and everything is fed up into systems giving access not only to our designers but also to third party vendors. Everybody has access to the same view.”

“We’re very excited about this and are thinking about where else we can extend that capability in other parts where we are doing engineering and build,” Elbaz added.

ATT Rakuten

Igal Elbaz and Sharad Sriwastawa presenting during Mobile World Congress 2024.

Sharad Sriwastawa, Co-CEO of Rakuten Mobile and President, Rakuten Symphony, said that Rakuten Mobile has had a focus on automation since its inception in 2018. It developed Site Manager to streamline and then automate parts of its own site deployment processes, using it for site acceptance and rollout. The same tool is used for drive testing acceptance, cluster acceptance and market acceptance. (A first-generation version of the same tool is used by Nokia in 90 countries, he added.)

The operator talked to TMN about the tool during Mobile World Congress 2024, in a video you can watch here. At that time it could not name AT&T specifically,  but the large US operator mentioned during the conversation is AT&T.

Sriwastawa said that as capabilities are added in future, operators could be able to use the data captured within the tool as a foundation for AI-based fucntions such as identifying which contractors are working well, and AI-derived insights into forward planning.

“At AT&T, people been there 20 years using the same tool. For them to adopt to new things will take some time but we are working on that direction slowly. At the moment they are using it for site and rollout management. Once we have everything integrated the next level could be RF planning, prediction, optimisation and performance management. It will take time but that’s the journey.”

Elbaz wasn’t committing to any future use cases, but he did say, “The important thing to understand is that Rakuten has proved it can scale its platforms to our needs. If we decide to take advantage of other parts of the platform that they build, they’ve proved they can scale it and if we get to that point I’m sure they’ll do that.”