What’s up with… Vodafone & VMware, Rakuten, Open RAN

  • Vodafone and VMware tackle the impact of ‘infinite scroll’
  • Rakuten bangs the AI, Open RAN drums
  • And theres more Open RAN action from Mavenir, AWS

In today’s industry news roundup: Vodafone and VMware have figured out a way to ease the network and user burden of endless video clip delivery by the social media giants; Rakuten is developing AI tools for telcos with OpenAI, while its Symphony unit has bagged some Open RAN engagements in Saudi Arabia and Ukraine; Mavenir and AWS are also benefitting from the latest Open RAN action; and much more! 

Vodafone has teamed up with VMware (now part of Broadcom) to tackle the growing problems for network operators, their consumer customers and social media companies, such as TikTok and Meta (Instagram), caused by the endless provision of short video clips to smartphones irrespective of the end user’s status or even whether they will view the video content (aka ‘endless scroll’). The two companies have developed an API that “allows content providers to quickly adapt to real-life network conditions by better controlling the amount of unsolicited content and pre-fetched short-form videos they send to consumers,” noted Vodafone in this announcement. The operator says many of these videos “consume valuable mobile network resources (and significant energy) that could be redirected to improve the overall customer experience and better serve critical applications”: Vodafone estimates that up to 20% of the traffic that flows through a mobile base station may correspond to unsolicited content that no one ever uses or gets to see. In an effort to deal with this, Vodafone developed an API (application programming interface) that gives content providers a real-time technical view of network conditions, such as congestion at busy locations like train stations or areas with poor mobile connectivity (such as a basement car park) that could impact a user’s experience, so that appropriate content delivery parameters can be set. According to Yago Tenorio, Vodafone fellow and network architecture director at the operator, the API can automatically signal when the network is under stress from the delivery of endless scroll content. “Capacity that could be better deployed serving other users for more important matters is going on addictive and unnecessary content,” noted Tenorio. “We want to help content providers to fine-tune their services to consumers’ actual needs,” he added, and that can be achieved by putting the API and the capabilities of VMware’s RAN intelligent controller (RIC) to good use. The API was developed in partnership with a major social media company, but Vodafone isn’t identifying that company. Read more.  

Japan’s Rakuten has built upon its previously announced relationship with generative AI (GenAI) giant OpenAI with plans to co-develop AI tools specifically for the telecom sector. The partners will work together to expand the Rakuten AI platform to include solutions for customer service, network optimisation and the predictive maintenance of telecom networks. Ting Cai, chief data officer of Rakuten Group, noted, “The telecommunications industry is at an inflection point where it must adapt to modern technologies or be left behind. Open RAN decouples software from hardware and makes data more accessible in the cloud, creating a perfect environment for large-scale AI applications. That’s why we are excited to partner with OpenAI to reinvent telecom together and generate greater value for consumers and businesses.” Read more

Still with the Japanese digital giant… Rakuten Symphony, the telecom platform solutions business that is part of the Rakuten Mobile empire, has landed some new engagements with its Open RAN solutions. Now Telecom, which has aspirations to build out a nationwide secure 5G network in the Philippines, is to work with Symphony on the development of a 5G Open RAN pilot deployment, while Kyivstar, part of international telco Veon, has signed a letter of intent to deploy Symphony’s 4G and 5G Open RAN technology in its network as part of the process to rebuild Ukraine’s digital infrastructure. Kaan Terzioglu, Veon’s group CEO, noted, “We are now in the implementation phase of our $600m investment commitment for the reconstruction of Ukraine. I share the excitement of our Kyivstar team, under the leadership of Kyivstar CEO Oleksandr Komarov, in working with Rakuten to rebuild the country’s infrastructure with Open RAN as a part of this commitment. We have a shared passion for building Ukraine’s digital future and I’m glad to see the progress in our joint effort.” Read more

And there’s more from Rakuten Symphony… The company has now launched its Real Open RAN Licensing Program that enables other companies to licence its Open RAN central unit (CU) and distributed unit (DU) codebases, which are already used in commercial mobile network deployments in Japan, at Rakuten Mobile of course, and in Germany in the network of 5G newcomer 1&1. Read more.  

Mavenir, meanwhile, has been making headway with its Open RAN growth ambitions. The vendor is working with Solutions by STC, the IT services and systems integration arm of Saudi Arabian network operator STC, to deploy an Open RAN network in Saudi Arabia this year following a successful initial deployment of a  multi-layer 4G and 5G non-standalone access network. Mavenir is providing its radio unit and virtualised RAN technology to underpin a service that is expected to go live this year. Yousef Almarshad, chief commercial officer at Solutions by STC, said: “Mavenir’s Open RAN technology innovation, together with Solutions by STC’s unrivalled experience in the Saudi Arabia market, provide a strong foundation for this trail-blazing Open RAN deployment, bringing the next-generation performance and breakthrough services to STC’s valued customers across the Kingdom – going beyond data speeds to a more sustainably, securely and cost-effective network powered by Mavenir’s Open RAN.” Read more

That followed the recent news that Mavenir is in the “advanced commercial phase” of an Open RAN network pilot deployment for Vodafone Idea, India’s third-largest but financially hamstrung mobile operator. The deployment, which began in September last year, “covers key launch sites and is currently carrying live commercial traffic ahead of a planned large-scale deployment,” noted Mavenir. The pilot, Vodafone Idea’s first Open RAN-compliant deployment, uses the operator’s 5G spectrum in the N78 and N258 millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum bands. Mavenir has provided a full Open RAN software suite, running on Red Hat’s Openshift cloud platform, as well as radio units. Jagbir Singh, Vodafone Idea’s CTO, noted, “This Open RAN deployment, delivered through Mavenir’s innovation and joint technological strategic initiatives, is in sync with our technology transformation roadmap and enriched vendor ecosystem. Working in partnership with [the] solutions of Mavenir, we see a major role ahead for Open RAN technology in delivering the network enhanced capabilities, better TCO [total cost of ownership] and open interfaces that will push the industry forward in new ways,” added Singh. Vodafone Idea is still in the early stages of its 5G activities and is some way behind its main and much stronger rivals, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, both of which have already achieved national 5G coverage and signed more than 50 million 5G customers each in a market that boasts more than 1.1 billion mobile connections.  

And that’s not the end of the Open RAN action… Amazon Web Services (AWS) has landed a deal to help deploy NTT Docomo’s nationwide 5G Open RAN network in Japan. The operator is to use AWS to deploy Amazon Elastic Kubernetes Service Anywhere (Amazon EKS Anywhere), a container management software platform, as part of the 5G Open RAN rollout to “simplify network operation with automated cluster management tools, enabling the operator to easily run and optimise” the network, according to AWS. “Amazon EKS Anywhere will also allow easier integration with other AWS services in AWS regions, as operators drive end-to-end cloud-based network transformation from 5G core network to operational support system (OSS) and business support system (BSS),” added the cloud platform giant. AWS was announced as a new member of NTT Docomo’s Orex (Open RAN ecosystem experience) portfolio earlier this week. Read more

Telefónica has joined forces with Microsoft to incorporate generative AI (GenAI) into its digital ecosystem, dubbed Kernel. GenAI will be applied to the key workflows of Telefónica via Azure AI Studio, a platform developed by Microsoft to enable developers to innovate with AI. According to Telefónica, the integration will allow its data scientists to access Kernel’s digital capabilities in “a frictionless and privacy-compliant manner.” As a result, they are expected to use GenAI in large language model (LLM) or small language model (SML) mode – regardless of whether they are commercial or have been developed internally. Describing Kernel as “the digital heart of Telefónica”, the telco explained that adding AI will enable it to transform many key tasks and generate realistic data. “The field of generative AI has experienced significant growth, but privacy issues have also arisen. Telefónica’s Privacy-by-Design approach, implemented through Kernel, ensures our customers’ privacy while leveraging LLM and SLM. Our partnership with Microsoft will further facilitate the integration of Kernel’s data workflows, enabling efficient, privacy-focused AI development,” noted Chema Alonso, chief digital officer at Telefónica.

Two of the largest telcos in the UK have made strides towards completely shutting down their 3G networks. In a brief blog, BT’s chief networks officer, Greg McCall, said the company’s final 3G mobile site has been switched off in Belfast, bringing an end to the use of the technology after more than 20 years. “It was a landmark moment as we continue our work to upgrade Britain’s connectivity infrastructure. But more importantly, it is a significant milestone for communities across the UK who are now embracing the benefits provided by modern mobile technologies like 4G and 5G,” noted McCall. He added that the 3G switch-off results in “big improvements for both our customers and the environment.” In a separate statement, Vodafone noted that it has shut down its legacy 3G network across the UK, except for a small number of locations of security significance, and a handful of remote rural communities, which will remain in operation for a short period of time. The operator added that the last remaining 3G radio frequencies will be repurposed to support its 4G and 5G services. Vodafone’s UK network director, Andrea Dona, said, “With switch-off complete, we can start to redeploy the remaining spectrum, which will ultimately lead to stronger and faster 4G and 5G across the UK. All on top of our existing 4G and 5G network improvement programmes. Good news for our customers, businesses and the wider UK economy.”

Telenor’s research and innovation (R&I) arm has conducted its first multivendor 5G standalone (SA) deployment within a hybrid cloud environment, covering both public and private cloud infrastructure. The “essential” goal of this development was to streamline deployment processes and enable “single-click automated deployments,” according to the telco. As a result, this could enable telcos to “rapidly build and deploy a 5G network in the cloud with their vendors of choice”. The private cloud component was hosted at Telenor’s R&I datacentre in Oslo, while the public cloud was delivered by Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). According to Telenor, this enables it to leverage OCI to “elastically scale” the 5G core in sync with demand fluctuations and will ultimately result in “substantial” cost reductions. Read more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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