Rakuten Symphony targets markets of adversity in disruptive technology push

Yanitsa Boyadzhieva
By Yanitsa Boyadzhieva

Jun 6, 2022

  • Rakuten Symphony sees emerging markets and countries with ‘adversity’ as most suitable for its disruptive technology plans
  • Technology could transform countries and help them bypass ‘legacy’ architectures, claims CMO Geoff Hollingworth
  • The company is targeting more than 100 potential customers for its services and is currently engaged with 44
  • It is also aiming to hire staff from a younger demographic than is normal in telecoms

Disruptive technology can help emerging and underserved countries become technology leaders, claims Rakuten Symphony CMO Geoff Hollingworth, as the company targets such markets in its effort to work with more than 100 customers globally.

Hollingworth highlighted the Middle East and Africa as regions where the company, an Open RAN-focused spin-off from Japanese mobile operator Rakuten Mobile, is “heavily invested and interested,” as these markets “are more likely to adopt faster something new that can help them [become] technology leaders.”

He suggested that it’s easier to do “something disruptive if there’s adversity... if you can’t do the simple thing.”

According to the executive, in certain emerging markets there is an optimism that they can become leaders despite being underserved thus far – all because of what technology can unlock. “Technology is an enabler” that can help “transform their country to be completely different... [to] bypass the legacy of what exists in the Western world.”

Hollingworth also sees a greater opportunity for disruptive technology to play a role and make a difference in markets that are trailing in terms of the deployment of technologies such as 5G. There is “an advantage in being behind” in some respects, and those who see the opportunity to leapfrog some legacy implementations are usually willing to take more risks and be at the forefront of new technology developments, he opined.

The aim of the company, eventually, is to “destroy the digital gap for everybody” – through connecting the 3 billion unconnected people in the world with the right cost efficiency and an operational scale, and also closing the digital divide in advanced markets.

“It’s everybody’s right that connectivity should be available to allow people to be what they could be,” noted Hollingworth. A lack of connectivity “shouldn’t be the reason that you can’t take part” in the digital society, he added.

That’s all very well, but how far has Rakuten Symphony got in its quest to save the world from digital despondency?

So far, it has struck a partnership with 1&1 to build and run the fourth mobile network in Germany – it will be an Open RAN-based 5G network – and has also struck a deal with AT&T for the development of solutions within Rakuten’s Symworld platform targeting network planning and deployment acceleration. Also in the US, Dish Network, which is about to launch a greenfield Open RAN-enabled 5G network, is using the new age vendor’s observability framework (OBF) to operate and optimise its 5G network through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) capabilities. Rakuten has also recently tapped a collaboration with MTN for 4G and 5G Open RAN trials in Africa. (See MTN leans on Rakuten Symphony for its latest Open RAN move.)

The company also noted that out of the 110 potential customers it has currently identified, it now has 13 existing deals, seven are in the process of closing, and another 24 are in a proposal phase, though it did not specify any names: That gives it a grand total of 44 ongoing industry engagements.

Hollingworth noted that another priority area for the company is to entice younger people to join the company, a wish that might be tough to fulfil in an industry that has often struggled to attract those from the younger generations.

“Now, in telecom, I think our bigger problem is the retirement problem,” added to the fact that “not enough young people want to work in it. So, we’re passionately investing in Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony in getting the young, promising talent to join telecom – but to do it in a new way, to do it how an internet company should do it, not how an industrial company should do it,” he added.

In his words, the telecoms industry can make a “really positive change to people, to a country, at a very deep human level.” Therefore, the sector can be seen as enticing, as it allows “the most promising people” to help modernise technology, build new services and improve people’s lives: As Hollingworth put it, there is never “a shortage of new things to do.”

He argued that designing “the next generation of telecom” is incredibly valuable to people and is “the secret to building a sustainable world” rather than getting a job at “start-up that wants to maybe make another cryptocurrency” that consumes a lot of energy.

In terms of environmental sustainability, Hollingworth recently called for a ‘pragmatic’ approach in the telecoms industry if it is to objectively assess the impact the industry has on the planet. (See Rakuten Symphony pitches a pragmatic approach to telco sustainability.)

- Yanitsa Boyadzhieva, Deputy Editor, TelecomTV

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