In a briefing with Rakuten Mobile today, we learned two neat things: It is experimenting with 3GPP on satellite, and it hopes to announced a full-stack Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) customer as early as next quarter. The company also shared some plans that it has for improving coverage to 96% by the end of the summer '21, and that it believes it has a 50% total cost of ownership advantage for its 5G infrastructure versus a traditional network operator.
So, what's so important about "3GPP on satellite?" If satellites are able to communicate with all cell phones and other cellular devices, this would mean that coverage could be enabled where we might need to have placed macro base stations. If we don't need macro base stations everywhere as satellites provide that coverage in sparse areas, or maybe even along highway routes, then a future cellular operator might be able to build its network with far fewer macro towers and rely more on a "barbell" approach, with small cells providing high throughput in busy areas and satellites providing coverage between busy areas. This would reduce demand for 5G base stations. Rakuten expects that its satellite partner, AST, may offer satellite coverage for Japan at the end of 2023 or the beginning of 2024 - that is a ways off. But, this means that in 3 or so years, the need for base stations may be considerably reduced.
Also, Rakuten spokesperson, Tareq Amin, said he thinks it is possible that Rakuten may announce its first RCP customer as early as next quarter. We published about RCP in November 2020, around when the team first started making RCP known to the public. This means that a division of a mobile operator, Rakuten Mobile, may be selling its know-how, technology and services to another telecom operator, presumably outside of Japan. This is a big deal in that most operators buy from vendors and systems integrators, not from others who are in the same business as them. It is also a big deal because cloud companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google all want to sell their cloud services to operators, too. And, if RCP gets there first, and sells its full stack (radio, core, billing, orchestration, OSS) it would represent a first-ever full stack services deal.
In conjunction with its recent Rakuten earnings call this week, Rakuten Mobile disclosed some more of its plans. This mobile operator is becoming a telecom vendor. Specifically, it said that “by expanding the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP) globally, Rakuten aims to evolve from a Japan-headquartered tech company to a global leader in telecom.” We see this as an explicit statement that the company plans to sell its telecom software and related services to operators worldwide. For instance, Rakuten Mobile just announced a partnership with Saudi-based operator, stc. This move pits Rakuten against Microsoft (who just acquired telecom companies and runs a cloud), Oracle (who runs a cloud and made telecom company acquisitions), and the rest of the telecom industry (traditionally Nokia, Ericsson, Huawei, ZTE, Amdocs, Netcracker and others).
In offering RCP to other operators around the world, its unique value, as we see it, is that Rakuten has successfully built an LTE and now a 5G network based on Open RAN. What we find interesting is that the company has developed a significant amount of intellectual property in-house or through technology sharing. In an interview today with Tareq Amin, Rakuten Mobile executive, we asked what technology has been developed in-house by Rakuten. Here’s what we learned.
Some other components are not developed by Rakuten (the radios come to mind), but this is an exciting development. RCP would be delivered as a “private cloud” on the premises of carrier customers (partners). The terminology Rakuten is using for this “private cloud,” is it’s a “pod.” RCP’s plans are a very interesting development in the industry.
There is one more thing. Rakuten said it is working with a technology supplier that will sell Rakuten a server card that would allow a combined router and RAN processing function to co-exist on a server. Today, the servers it uses to support its Open RAN radios use an FPGA NIC. These servers can support up to 16 base stations. We see the addition of routing to this card as an extension of the capability – but it means there may be a diminished need for cell site routers.
Ericsson Capital Markets Day Part Two:
Networks summary: When asked how it took market share (North American has 53% share 2Q20, up 5% vs 2018), management pointed to having made more significant R&D investments in radio than competitors. It cited Dynamic spectrum Sharing and its cost-efficient radio-related ASICs as examples of valuable features to customers.
The company expects O-RAN will continue to evolve, with limited uptake starting in 2023. Cited IPR challenges as one challenge. Elsewhere in the presentation, it said it is #1 contributor to 5G standards; we take it that this IPR gives Ericsson leverage to slow ‘O-RAN’ down.
The team said the split of Digital services for T4Q 3Q20 as (excluding IPR, consulting, and learning services):
• BSS 20%
• OSS 25%
• Comm services 15%
• Packet core 20%
• Cloud and NFV infra 10%
The Digital Services team has:
• addressed 37 of the 45 ‘critical and non-strategic’ projects
• revised its BSS strategy, and it is now 5G focused
• 75% of its portfolio exposed to growth as of 3Q20 sales
• Cloud infrastructure has 200 customers
• 5G Cloud core has 80 customers (includes “5G” EPC and 5GC SA contracts). Packet core should grow faster than the others
• 5G SA count is now at 30. 5G SA revenues should begin in 2021 from most of these contracts.
• BSS has 120 contracts, 9 of which were competitor swap-outs
• Orchestration has 100 customers
Dig Services software + support in T4Q 3Q20 was about 55% of total revenues, and it expects 60% by 2022. It has about 40% recurring revenue T4Q 3Q20 and expects it to be about 55% by 2022. Expects Japanese and Korean operators to deploy SA by the end of 2021; expects Japanese 5G market to ramp very soon because it is a heavy user of iPhones. It expects 600K 5G base stations in China in 2020 and the same number in 2021.
Emerging Markets Summary:
Recently acquired Cradlepoint has > 60% GM and a recurring revenue SaaS model. 200K enterprises, 3,000 public agencies, 1,500 channel partners. It has won 30 dedicated network deals.
Today, Alan Weckel participated in Intel's webinar on how technology is changing from the edge to the cloud. It was clear working on this project that the data center is rapidly innovating to next-generation technologies to keep pace with data growth. How will networks for communication service providers (CoSPs), cloud service providers (CSPs), and enterprises evolve to handle the dramatically increasing data volumes expected in the coming years? Increasing data volumes are being driven today by smartphones, laptops, IoT, and, in the near future, by emerging 5G-enabled services. 650 Group's internal projections indicate that data entering/exiting the data center (north/south) is driven mostly by consumer content (e.g., video). In contrast, a wide range of use cases ranging from enterprise applications, consumer data, and cloud applications drive data between machines.
As part of the webinar, we authored a white paper on how quickly technology is involving in the data center. As we did our end-user interviews during the last few months, we saw many advancements in technology to support the growth of data in the cloud. We are excited to see all the new announcements coming as we close out 2020 and enter 2021.
Please download the white paper by clicking on the link below.
Ericsson has served the mobile service provider industry well over the years. Most devices connected to its customers’ networks are mobile phones; this, however, is changing. Internet of Things (IoT) devices are entering the fray and provide an avenue for growth, as is the enterprise market. Additionally, Ericsson’s channels have mostly been to operators, at a time when enterprise growth is expected to provide additional cellular industry growth. Ericsson’s portfolio, until the Cradlepoint acquisition, was not particularly well-positioned to benefit from IoT and enterprise growth vectors.
IoT devices come in all shapes and sizes, and they use a number of different connectivity methods, from cellular to Wi-Fi to Bluetooth to LoRa and many others. In 2020, we expect only 16% of IoT and wirelessly connected devices will connect to cellular systems; the rest connect to more popular (and mostly free) connectivity types. We see cellular connections growing in the future, but as a percentage of all IoT and wirelessly connected devices, we expect it will drop to 13% of all such devices five years from now. The reduction in the fraction of IoT and wireless devices connected to cellular is why the “cellular to other” gateway market (Cradlepoint’s main market) makes sense. There are some use cases where cellular backhaul connections to connect Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee and others are vital.
With US-based CBRS and European nations’ private enterprise spectrum opening up the opportunity that enterprises will build their own networks – without needing a mobile operator’s help with sub-leasing licensed spectrum – the folks at Ericsson had a choice to make. The choice was to continue selling to and through mobile operators and hope that mobile operators keep their share of enterprise and IoT growth, or to acquire products and distribution channels to access enterprise growth.
Ericsson’s competitors were partnering with Cradlepoint with some success. Recently, Nokia’s enterprise revenues hit about 10% of revenues, in part because it was selling LTE gear to customers in verticals such as utilities, mining & exploration, and logistics & shipping. Many of these customers were using devices such as Cradlepoint’s. Ericsson is now invited to these ongoing dialogues as these networks expand and change.
We would be remiss if we didn’t mention 5G in relation to Cradlepoint. Some enterprises seek a secondary wireless connection to supplement their primary wired broadband connection. Gear such as Cradlepoint routers can serve this need well. In this sense, we can see why Ericsson uses messages such as “Ericsson accelerates 5G for Enterprise with the Cradlepoint acquisition.”
This acquisition is not without controversy, in our view. The Swedes are acquiring a company located in Boise, Idaho, and as such, managing from afar may present challenges. Cradlepoint sells its devices differently (mainly through channels) from how Ericsson sells its gear (mainly direct); these two distribution methods may conflict. Ericsson sold its cell phone business many years ago because it conflicted with its mobile infrastructure business. Similarly, Cradlepoint gear is focused mainly on enterprises, we see a similar conflict because Cradlepoint’s customer base liked its independence from cellular gear-makers. If Ericsson can manage through these challenges, it may enjoy exposure to IoT, enterprise and 5G gateway growth opportunities.
Alex Choi, SVP, Head of Strategy and Technology Innovation at Deutsche Telekom, presented at Day 2 joint keynote broadcast for ONF's Spotlight event on 5G and open source. He shared several comments about DT’s strategy that we thought were interesting and showed that the German telco is looking to break away from old ways of doing business.
Activity surrounding Open RAN is hitting a fever pitch. We have been seeing accelerating operator and vendor announcements supporting Open RAN, and now the Open Networking Foundation has announced that it is launching SD-RAN to complement Open RAN. The plan for SD RAN is to open up critical portions of the RAN architecture, allowing both open source and vendor based microservices, called xApps, software connect to the SD RAN architecture’s Radio Ixxx Controller (RIC).
To date, we’ve seen vendors like Parallel Wireless, Mavenir, Altiostar, Samsung and Nokia throw their weight behind Open RAN. Japanese operator Rakuten has been very vocal about its successful commercial launch in April 2020 that uses Open RAN and a virtual computing system to support various RAN functions such as baseband. ONF’s SD RAN project takes things another step, though, by allowing operators and vendors to to leverage open source in the RAN environment.
Getting there presents a challenge. With its announcement, the ONF will support a nRT-RIC and xApps, this is the intelligence that needs to be opened up, according to Timon Sloane, VP for ecosystems and marketing for the ONF based in Menlo Park. He says that functionality from a powerful RIC and xApps can finally deliver the integration and benefits needed for an open approach to work.
Adding some muscle, the open RAN development community, and associated carriers globally, have shown their support for this latest project, a software defined RAN that will put a focus on open systems for 5G and the deeper integration.
The ONF’s SD-RAN project specifically is backed by a coterie of industry players: The O-RAN Alliance, Telecom Infrastructure Project (TIP), and Facebook. Also, global carriers and cloud providers like AT&T, Google, China Mobile, China Unicom, DT and NTT. Lastly, system/chip companies like Intel, Sercomm and Radisys.
The ONF’s proposed µONOS-RIC, is a microservices SDN controller based on ONF’s ONOS platform. 650 Group is bullish on this effort as previous attempts have not come to fruition and the ONF has already had lots of success with its CORD/cloud edge data centers and broadband access with the likes of AT&T DT and Comcast.
Today, HPE Aruba announced its Aruba Air Pass cloud service that allows for a hand-off between cellular and Wi-Fi networks. The service is enabled by Passpoint, which is a standard created by the Wi-Fi Alliance. The idea is that a mobile operator customer can go into a building with Wi-Fi coverage and, without having to "log on" to the Wi-Fi, the user's phone will automatically connect. Using Air Pass means that mobile operators won't need to build a cellular infrastructure in these buildings for customers to continue with their phone calls.
For mobile customers to see the benefit of seamless roaming from the Air Pass service, mobile operators will need to engage in a relationship with the property owners of the building. While this seems like a lot of work, connecting to Air Pass will be far easier than it would be for a property owner to install a cellular network inside the building. Examples of in-building cellular that can operate either on licensed, shared or unlicensed spectrum is a Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) system or licensed small cells. Building owners or operators have to build new, in-building cellular if they want cellular coverage. Managed Service Providers, such as Federated Wireless, have begun selling a service to property owners where they will manage the cellular infrastructure for the owner.
Aruba has some competition for its service to allow Wi-Fi sharing to mobile operator customers. In February 2020, Cisco announced its Unified Domain Center as a means of sharing Wi-Fi coverage with mobile operators, as well, and claimed that it is at the proof of concept stage with operators. Also, Swedish software and services company, Aptilo, has created systems that allow SIM-based device users to roam onto Wi-Fi, as well. We applaud the efforts of Aruba, Cisco, Aptilo and many others who have built systems to allow device users to roam between cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
There has been a lot of excitement by mobile operators and cellular equipment suppliers about the 5G opportunity to expand to enterprises. In November 2019, for instance, Nokia discussed how enterprises are adopting its Private LTE systems to allow cellular coverage at customers such as utilities and shipping ports. We have been cautious on the idea that mobile operators will get lots of new revenue from providing cellular coverage to the enterprise; a year ago, we laid out our thoughts on the 5G Enterprise hype at the MWC19 show.
The implications of the emergence of services like Air Pass and the capabilities of Unified Domain Center is that Enterprise Wi-Fi coverage will be leveraged in the 5G era far more than all the hype about "5G" wiping out the need for Wi-Fi. However, we also feel that cellular systems will see growing popularity in certain enterprise verticals, as was evident at the MWC-Americas 2019 show.
Qualcomm made many wireless-related announcements today from its San Diego, CA headquarters, in place of making a presentation at #MWC20 in Barcelona. Top announcements included its FSM100xx 5G small cell chips customer announcements, RF-chip availability, Wi-Fi 6E demonstrations, and 5G smartphone customer announcements.
FSM100xx 5G RAN endorsements. Qualcomm announced its FSM 5G RAN platform in May 2018, targeting small cells and remote radio heads and enabling bothmmWave and sub-6 GHz spectrum using 10 nm process geometry. The company listed multiple vendors and operators in its press announcement relating to FMS100xx chips. Each of the vendors shared some interesting statistics, the most important of which we share here:
Qualcomm ultraSAW Filter. Expect availability in 2H20. Hit parity in performance in 2019 and now claims that its ultraSAW Filter will exceed performance of competitors, especially in high-bands.
Wi-Fi 6E. Qualcomm demonstrated 6 GHz operation between its Networking Pro Series (Wi-Fi 6 chips for Wi-Fi infrastructure like access points and routers). Qualcomm was not specific about the timetable for delivery of 6 GHz systems, but the company hinted that the 6 GHz demonstration “underscores Qualcomm’s readiness to extend its successful Wi-Fi 6 portfolio into the 6 GHz band for a transformative Wi-Fi 6E performance, pending regulatory approval.” The company expects that mobile devices using its Snapdragon 865 Mobile chips (intended for user devices like smartphones) can operate more than 3 Gbps when using the new 6 GHz spectrum, or 1.8 Gbps when using existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz available today. Qualcomm said its Networking Pro Series (Wi-Fi 6 chips) have been “deployed in more than 200 designs shipping or in development.”
Qualcomm Snapdragon 865 Mobile Platform. The company announced that its chip system for mobile phones that features its second-generation 5G Modem-RF system, the Snapdragon X55, has been “announced or are in development” in over 70 designs, including those from top vendors such as OPPO, Samsung, Xiaomi and ZTE.
Additionally, the company made VR devices and Personal Computer (PC) announcements including partners such as Facebook (VR) and Microsoft (PC).
Cisco’s many MWC announcements include a system to unify WiFi, LTE, CBRS, 5G called Unified Domain Center
We review the new announcements Cisco made public for the now-cancelled MWC20 show, and they are: BNG on unified control plane, Unified Domain Center-to-DNA Center interoperation, IoT Control Center, SP Services Edge (CDN), new Open RAN partners, NCS 540 router with CPRI support, and Crosswork automation platform. Since MWC is a show primarily focused on mobile and wireless, we think the two announcements that are most “wireless” in nature were: (a) Unified Domain Center announcement, which will unify management of WiFi to cellular operator LTE is interesting and (b) the partnerships Cisco announced with Open RAN vendors like Parallel Wireless, NEC and World Wide Technology.
Summary of announcements by Cisco:
Unified Domain Center
IOT Control Center
SP Services Edge
Converged SDN Transport “New Engines”
Automated Network Operations
Trusted path routing