Rakuten and NEC take on global telecom vendors with 5G core

Rakuten Mobile launched its greenfield 4G network on April 8, but it’s moving fast on its 5G network. And the Japanese operator seems to have even bigger ambitions. Today it said it’s working with NEC to develop a standalone 5G core network based on containers. And not only will Rakuten Mobile use this core in its own network, but Rakuten and NEC plan to offer it as a product to other operators – in competition with global telecom vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson.

The parties plan to make their jointly developed SA 5G core network available to others on the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP). Rakuten is packaging all its learnings from building its own mobile network and selling it via RCP to other telecom companies and enterprises around the world that want to follow in its footsteps. The 5G core will be offered as an application on the RCP Marketplace.

“It may sound strange that two Japanese companies are now trying to challenge the global telecoms industry, but I’m very confident we will be able to bring the Japan-quality platform to the world,” said Rakuten chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani during a press event.

The two companies are building their Japan-made 5G core based on software source code developed by NEC.

The Silicon Valley startup Robin.io had already spilled the beans that Rakuten was building its 5G network on containers, rather than virtual machines. Some of the vendors it’s collaborating with for containers include Robin.io, Altiostar and Intel.

RELATED: Rakuten’s 5G network will be built with containers

But today’s news specifies that NEC is the primary software vendor for its 5G core development.

About a year ago, Rakuten announced that it was developing a 3.7 GHz massive MIMO 5G antenna radio unit together with NEC at NEC’s facilities in Japan.

Today, NEC said it was also a key Rakuten Mobile partner for the billing and operation support systems for the 4G network. 

NEC’s President of Network Services Atsuo Kawamura said in a statement today, “Following the BSS/OSS for the 4G network and 5G radio equipment that we have already begun offering, we look forward to providing a high-quality, highly reliable 5G core and contributing to Rakuten Mobile's 5G services."

Rakuten also worked with the OSS startup Innoeye. And it recently said it was acquiring Innoeye, which is based in Herndon, Virginia, with offices in India.

RELATED: Rakuten buys OSS startup Innoeye with more than 500 employees

Rakuten plans to launch its non-standalone 5G service in 2020 and to provide its standalone 5G service in Japan in 2021.

The Japanese operator is working with a slew of vendors. And the vendor lineup is different between its 5G network and its 4G network.