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Saudi Telecom opens up to Rakuten

Saudi Telecom Company (STC) has inked a cooperation deal with Rakuten Mobile that will see it explore its options for OpenRAN and other forward-looking mobile technologies.

Rakuten Mobile is working hard to push its cloud native vision for mobile networking to operators the world over, and STC becomes the latest to join the club, following in the footsteps of Telefonica, which signed a similar deal a month ago.

Under the terms of the MoU, the pair have pledged to look at collaborating in areas including “fully autonomous digital platform serving telecommunication cloud network, OpenRAN deployment options for greenfield and brownfield use-cases, operating models and business value realization,” they said, in a statement. STC said it is mulling designing its infrastructure using the Rakuten Communications Platform (RCP), a set of tools and services Rakuten is touting as a quick and easy way for telcos to go cloud native.

“We are confident this [agreement] will bring tangible results in terms of developing a new advanced technology strategy and accelerating the early deployment of novel and sophisticated services,” said STC chief executive Nasser S. Al Nasser.

“We believe that our open architecture and advanced OpenRAN technologies will help define a new generation of operators who are ideally positioned to place advanced customer experience and differentiated profitable services at the centre of their offering,” said Rakuten Mobile CEO, and chairman and CEO of Rakuten Inc, Mickey Mikitani. “We are very excited about collaborating with STC and sharing our know-how of building new-generation telecommunication infrastructure,” he added.

Rakuten Mobile is the ultimate open networks evangelist. It launched 4G mobile services – on virtualised, cloud native infrastructure – in Japan earlier this year as the country’s fourth mobile network operator and added an OpenRAN-based 5G option, on its RCP, into the mix just last month. Its 2,980 yen-per-month (around US$28) 5G plan is doubtless giving Japan’s longer-established operators the jitters, despite its limited reach at present.

Indeed, Rakuten said it had reached 1 million applications for its UN-LIMIT 4G plan by the end of June, less than three months after it launched. Admittedly, that’s a a tiny proportion of NTT DoCoMo, KDDI, and Softbank’s combined 183.5 million mobile customers at the same date, according to Japan’s Telecommunications Carriers Association, but it’s strong growth nonetheless.

“We’re looking forward to offering our growing customer base even more convenient, simple and low-cost services,” said Mikitani, in June.

But outside of Japan, all eyes are on Rakuten’s mission to take its open approach to the rest of the world. Its partnerships with STC and Telefonica, in addition to RCP deals brokered with Equinix and Tech Mahindra in the past few weeks, are just the start of that journey. There’s a lot more to come from Rakuten. Probably soon.


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