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Rakuten Symphony hits duff note with CEO’s abrupt exit

Rakuten

The Open RAN movement has lost one of its most vocal players after Rakuten Symphony CEO Tareq Amin left the company with no warning and little fanfare.

He has also bid farewell to Rakuten Mobile, where he served as co-CEO.

The official explanation given to Light Reading is that Amin left for family reasons. Either out of respect, or for some other reason, no mention of this appeared in Monday’s official press release, and no well-wishes appear to have proffered by the company, at least in public.

Rakuten cast the development as a leadership transition, announcing that Rakuten Group Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani will become chairman and CEO of Rakuten Symphony as well. He will be aided by Sharad Sriwastawa who, in addition to being CTO of Rakuten Mobile, will now also serve as Symphony’s representative director and acting president.

Whatever the reason for the sudden change in management, it does little to dispel the sense that 2023 has so far been a relatively muted year for Rakuten Symphony since it burst onto the scene in January 2022 when it was spun off from its parent.

Even before the spin-off, Symphony made waves when it planted its first flag in Europe, winning a landmark deal to supply German greenfield mobile operator 1&1 with Open RAN-based network solutions. However, the rollout is running way behind schedule, with 1&1 pointing the finger at Vodafone’s infrastructure unit Vantage Towers.

Despite further expanding its presence in Europe with new offices and a UK-based Open RAN ‘hub’, Symphony has yet to score another deal that’s as big and eye-catching as the 1&1 deal.

The MoU it signed with Veon last week does offer some encouragement. Together they will explore the possibility of using Open RAN kit to rebuild the networks of Veon’s Ukrainian unit Kyivstar, which has suffered at the hands of Russia’s invasion.

The MoU also covers Veon’s other markets, and while it could lead to some lucrative contracts, it is worth bearing in mind that an MoU about exploring the possibility of using Symphony’s Open RAN solutions does not equate to a done deal.

Compounding the gloom is the backdrop of inflation, macroeconomic uncertainty and a slowing RAN market. Indeed, earnings at the traditional big vendors Ericsson and Nokia have taken a hit this year due to lower operator capex in North America and elsewhere. Research firm Dell’Oro expects RAN revenues to decline at a CAGR of 1 percent over the next five years, and last month it revised down its forecast for Open RAN’s market share for the first time.

With a challenging operating environment and with major RAN deals seemingly hard to come by, perhaps Rakuten felt it was necessary to shake things up. The pressure will be on Sriwastawa to bring fresh momentum to Symphony.

“With his proven track record at Rakuten Mobile, deep understanding of global technology trends and the evolving commercial opportunities for companies in the telco sphere, we are pleased to expand Sharad [Sriwastawa]’s role as a visionary leader who will guide the company’s expansion, capitalise on our business momentum, and solidify its future as an industry-disrupting enterprise,” Mikitani said in a statement.

 

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