5G: Save the best for the beginning
Accenture and umlaut will again be pooling their skills and expertise for the expansion of 5G, and are setting up Germany's first OpenRAN network for 1&1. A telephone call with Hakan Ekmen and Björn Uhr.
Hello Aachen! How are we connected?
Björn Uhr: Not yet via our in-house 5G Open RAN-compatible campus network, if that's what you’re asking? But we will soon be starting operations in the test lab at our site in Aachen for the outside areas and four of the buildings and – as is specified in the licensing conditions – we will only be using it internally. We will then be in a position to test Industry 4.0 application scenarios that we develop with our customers. For this phone call, conventional 5G will have to do.
What is behind the new Open RAN standard?
Hakan Ekmen: The RAN, meaning Radio Access Network, is the part of the mobile network that allows connection of mobile devices such as our smartphones. In the typical scenario, all RAN components in a network come from one and the same manufacturer because the RAN components don't have open interfaces. The new Open RAN concept is an open architecture, with interfaces for many partners. In particular with the hardware, only standard systems that comply with the Intel X86 standard are used. This not only brings down the cost of the hardware but also allows a multitude of new players to enter the market with their own software developments, without having to develop a complete end-to-end RAN ecosystem, and this should, for example, enable the use of standard commercially available hardware. Software is installed between the antenna and the base station and this can be adjusted at any time. This firstly increases the flexibility of the mobile network operators, allowing them to differentiate their networks from the competition through clever selection of partners, and it is also likely to lead to lower procurement costs due to the increase in competition between system providers.
Björn Uhr: So, in short, Open RAN will result in increased competition between the suppliers of the network infrastructure and therefore lower prices, and at the same time will mean greater flexibility in terms of the choice of suppliers, ....
Up until now?
Björn Uhr: As one of the first network operators to do so in Germany, 1&1 wants to make use of this new technology – and to equip their 5G network right across the country. Rakuten – the Japanese giant in this sector – will be supplying the technology and setting up the network, thereby gaining a foothold in Europe. Accenture and umlaut are providing support for this highly innovative project. There is of course great interest in the setting up of this network from all the players in the market – and not only in Germany.
How did your collaboration with Accenture on this project come about?
Björn Uhr: Rakuten will be responsible for the setting up of the network end-to-end as a supplier and general contractor, and will have to manage the large number of partners who are involved. Rakuten will be assigning the active project management of all these parties, projects and streams to Accenture. The company is the partner of choice when it comes to providing digital support, automation and scaling for projects of this size. umlaut was chosen by Accenture as a partner on account of our huge amount of experience, especially in the area of mobile communications.
And what role is umlaut playing in the collaboration?
Hakan Ekmen: umlaut has extensive experience in the field of mobile communications, with particular expertise in end-to-end engineering – starting from planning and set-up, right through to commissioning and testing. Only recently, in June 2021, we tested a Rakuten LTE network (4G) in Tokyo. In Japan, the company is not only a supplier but also a network operator. As one of the first players with an Open RAN standard, Rakuten achieved an umlaut score of 926 out of 1,000 and thus a rating of "very good". We are now helping to set up Rakuten's first 5G Open RAN network in Europe.
So, you have already worked with Rakuten in Tokyo?
Hakan Ekmen: Yes and no. We weren't physically in Japan for the test. We are able to test the quality and performance of almost all networks across the world by remote means. With our innovative crowd-sourcing solution, we can capture and evaluate the actual user experience on the end devices of a large number of end customers, in fact 1 in 500 smartphones per country. This is all done via an anonymised process and of course in compliance with the relevant data protection requirements. In addition to this, we actively carry out tests in many countries using our own vehicles and record the measurements ourselves. But we haven't yet done this in Japan.
The project with Accenture was launched in the summer. Now that the merger has been completed: how are you dividing up the work?
Björn Uhr: Project design, project set-up, process establishment – this is all being done by Accenture. Where we come in is when the infrastructure needs to be rolled out, accepted and optimised. Furthermore, we provide support for various domains with our in-depth engineering expertise, including RAN, core, roll-out, operations and cloud.
What will change through the takeover?
Björn Uhr: For our direct customers there will initially be no change. It is important to show stability and to continue to maintain our quality standards at the high level that our customers are used to. In the background, however, we will certainly be merging Accenture's digital expertise and our own engineering skills, and we will be able to significantly expand our offer to our customers. We complement one another perfectly.
Hakan Ekmen: There is huge market potential for setting up an infrastructure of public mobile and landline networks and cloud – and the project with Rakuten and 1&1 has got off to a very promising start. We are already having discussions with Accenture about scaling and other business models. Alongside the public networks, there are also private networks owned by companies. Here, the solutions are quite different from those we develop for the classical end user. This is an area where we want to position ourselves together with Accenture.