The First Virtualized Network: Learning from Rakuten Mobile in Japan

Rakuten Mobile was the first company in the world to launch a fully virtualized network. The operator outpaced its competitors in September 2020 and has already surpassed five million subscribers, leading the 5G market in Japan.

Rakuten’s 5G network, the world’s first native cloud network, was developed using the container-based Open Radio Access Network (RAN) model. Since the Open RAN model is installed inside a container, it creates an open-source, interoperable system that combines components from different vendors to form a single complete network.

In June 2021, Rakuten’s 5G test in Japan achieved 640 Gbps for User Plane Function (UPF), indicating opportunities to boost the commercial network in the near future. Potential improvements would roll out in Japan and across the globe since Rakuten Mobile and NEC Corporation signed a commitment to expand this domestic technology to the world.

Several notable capabilities differentiate Rakuten’s virtualized 5G network, including:

  • 5G structure in millimeter waves (sub-6Ghz – 3.7GHz, and 28Ghz);
  • Signal propagation through the system of multiple inputs and outputs (MIMO);
  • Low installation cost, as it retrofitted Rakuten’s existing 4G network;
  • Rakuten partnered with Cisco to promote 5G and IoT services to corporate customers.

What’s a virtualized network?

We began by saying that Rakuten uses virtualized networking technology — but what is that anyway? Let’s explain!

A virtualized network supplies resources through a software solution, unlike a traditional, hardware-based network. In other words, virtualized networks process connections in the cloud, making them smaller, more affordable and quicker to install than their non-virtualized counterparts.

In addition, virtualized networks help lower operating costs and capital expenses. Since they require less complex infrastructure installation and maintenance, the network is more efficient and supports more automation than other models.

Expanding technology to the global market

Rakuten’s successful 5G installation in Japan provides lessons for the world. The brand’s partnership with NEC Corporation and Intel demonstrates that companies can work together for the same goal, collaborating with each other to raise the quality standard of products and solutions. The network’s virtual, containerized structure illustrates the efficacy of the Open RAN model.

The technology behind Rakuten’s virtualized 5G network is attracting operators’ attention worldwide, which justifies the agreement previously mentioned to expand the solution to other countries.

For example, U.S.-based communications company Ligado Networks plans to use Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) technology to create 5G solutions in the business sector.

Follow our blog to keep up with the latest news and learn more about advances in 5G!


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