Dish adds Rakuten Symphony to 5G vendor lineup

Dish Network has officially tapped Rakuten Symphony as an OSS vendor for its cloud-native 5G standalone network build, with its first market launch quickly approaching.

On Tuesday Dish said it will use Rakuten Symphony’s observability framework (OBF) to collect telemetry data from network functions that enable the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to optimize and operate the 5G network.

The OBF is meant to give more visibility into cloud-native network functions’ performance and operations in near-real time.

“This collected data will be used to optimize networks through its Closed Loop Automation module, which executes procedures to provide automatic scaling and healing while minimizing manual work and reducing errors,” Dish stated in the announcement.

A new entrant in wireless, Dish is poised to make its first 5G commercial market debut in Las Vegas during the first quarter of 2022. 

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Both Dish Network and Japan’s Rakuten Mobile are proponents of cloud-native virtualized network architecture for their respective greenfield builds. Rakuten Mobile launched a 4G network in Japan in 2020, serving as an early large-scale example. Over the summer parent and e-commerce giant Rakuten Group created Rakuten Symphony as a new unit to package and sell network technologies from the company and its ecosystem of partners, including those in the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). It’s part of plans to export its learnings from building a virtualized mobile network based on open principles to other operators globally, in what it pitches as a blueprint for easier deployments.

On the Operational Support Systems (OSS) side, Rakuten acquired startup Innoeye last year, after deploying the vendor’s software and end-to-end automation process platform to support its 4G/5G cloud in Japan. Innoeye was incorporated into RCP and now Rakuten Symphony.

The new unit has one major flagship customer, 1&1 Drillisch, which is building out a new open RAN-based wireless network in Germany.  Dish, meanwhile, already has a long lineup of network vendors, including Cisco, which was announced earlier this month. But it’s decision to work with Rakuten may not come as a surprise.

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Dish already said it would use software from Altiostar, a U.S.-based open RAN vendor that Rakuten recently acquired at a value of $1 billion and uses both in its network and as part of Symphony’s network functions offering.

Speaking to FierceWireless at MWC Los Angeles in October, Thierry Maupile, EVP at Altiostar, said that when Altiostar became part of Symphony it brought along customers including Dish. Asked at the time about Dish using Symphony technologies, Maupile had indicated the emerging network operator would be part of the picture.

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“I believe this is something they will consider very beneficial to their plan,” Maupile said.

Dish has had its eye on Rakuten for a while. Back in 2019 executives were talking about Rakuten’s network build in Japan as the operator was the first to deploy a virtualized network

“It’s a difficult engineering challenge for the first company to do it and we are going to benefit, as are others, by learning the lessons from them [Rakuten],” said Dish Chairman Charlie Ergen at the time.

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It hasn’t been all rosy for Rakuten, which faced early delays and has continued to see growing mobile costs that haven’t been offset by customer gains, weighing on quarterly results. In the third quarter it started to transition more subscribers off of roaming partner KDDI and onto the Rakuten network, with expectations for lower costs and a better user experience to follow.    

Dish itself has pushed back timing on its initial 5G network launch a few times. Under FCC commitments, Dish has to cover 20% of the U.S. population by June and 70% by mid-2023.