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Rakuten Selects Qualcomm to Commercialize Massive MIMO Radio Unit and Distributed Unit (DU) for Next Generation 5G Mobile Infrastructure – Futurum Tech Webcast Interview Series

On this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast – Interview Series, I am joined by Tareq Amin, CEO of Rakuten Symphony, and Durga Malladi, Senior Vice President & General Manager, 5G, Mobile Broadband & Infrastructure at Qualcomm for a conversation around the big announcement between the two companies.

Rakuten Symphony Adopting Qualcomm Cell Site Modem Tech

In our conversation we discussed the following:

  • The details of the expanded partnership between the two companies
  • Why this announcement is so important
  • What this means for the industry as a whole
  • Who are the targets from a customer perspective and what benefits can they expect

It was a great conversation and one you don’t want to miss. To learn more about Rakuten Symphony check out their website and to learn more about Qualcomm visit their website here.

Watch my interview with Tareq and Durga here:

Or listen to my interview with them on your favorite streaming platform here:

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Disclaimer: The Futurum Tech Webcast is for information and entertainment purposes only. Over the course of this webcast, we may talk about companies that are publicly traded and we may even reference that fact and their equity share price, but please do not take anything that we say as a recommendation about what you should do with your investment dollars. We are not investment advisors and we do not ask that you treat us as such.


Daniel Newman: Hi everybody, welcome back to another episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. I’m your host, Daniel Newman, Principal Analyst, Founding Partner at Futurum Research. Excited for this interview series today? We’ve got some breaking news, and the opportunity talk to two of the key executives that will be breaking this news, always happy to do that here on the Futurum Tech Webcast.

Now, before I do bring our guests onto the show, I do want to just do a quick disclaimer. This show is for information and entertainment purposes only, and while we will be talking about and to publicly traded companies, please do not take anything shared on this show as investment advice. Got to get that out of the way, sorry, gentlemen, but it’s important that we do that. So, with me today, I’ve got Qualcomm’s Durga Malladi, and I’ve got Rakuten Symphony’s Tareq Amin. We just talked about, off the line, getting name right, and I just had to get that one a little wrong to prove it’s always entirely possible. Tareq, Durga, welcome to the show, love to have you guys do a quick introduction. Tareq, I’ll start with you.

Tareq Amin: Thank you, Daniel, and thank you for pronouncing my name correctly by the way. So I am the CEO of Rakuten Symphony. Rakuten Symphony is our new platform organization focused on cloud connectivity, delivering edge platforms, Open RAN architecture, intelligent operations, billing, and wrapping everything around with a larger internet and ecosystem services of Rakuten.

Daniel Newman: Welcome, I’m looking forward to you and Durga breaking the news, but first, Durga, welcome back. You’ve been with me before, it’s great to have you here.

Durga Malladi: Good to actually talk to you again, it’s been a while, always nice to do that. Just as a quick background for my introduction, I’m Durga Malladi, I’m the Senior Vice President and General Manager for 5G Mobile Broadband and Infrastructure, driving our technology roadmap across all the segments in 5G, and product lines infrastructure and mobile broadband.

Daniel Newman: And welcome back. I don’t think I’ve seen you since maybe November? At a New York cold investor day?

Durga Malladi: Yes.

Daniel Newman: That was a great event, and a pretty big moment for Qualcomm. So, there’s some news, I’m going to ask you guys to break it. I will say, Tareq, beforehand, is, Rakuten for about the last two years, I could not attend a Mobile World Congress or listen to basically any of the massive technology players talking about 5G without the name Rakuten coming up. You guys were a case study for many, you were one of the fast growing rapidly deployed technologies. And then of course, Qualcomm, you really can’t say 5G period without hopefully people thinking about Qualcomm. I know from my conversations with your CEO, Cristiano Amon, that that is definitely his goal, as 5G and Qualcomm are increasingly becoming synonymous.

But gentlemen, I’ll start out with my first question, and Tareq, I’ll throw this one your way. You guys are, you’re in the process of making a big announcement together. Talk about that. What is the announcement being made between Rakuten Symphony and Qualcomm?

Tareq Amin: Daniel, I think, before we even talk about the announcement, maybe we spend just a minute or so talking about the history and the partnership between Qualcomm and Rakuten. So it is, of course, I will tell, a super crazy idea when we come up with this concept of building a network that is completely disaggregated, a network that is cloud native in the essence of the applications that runs on top of it, a network that embeds automation in everything that we do, to deliver better customer experience, and to build everything on a fundamental premise that we have to have Open RAN. We could not do this without the help, the support, and the partnership that we have done with Qualcomm. In fact, in less than two years, when we envisioned the architecture, we envisioned a true heterogeneous network, a network that has 4G, 5G, macros, small cells, working nicely together to deliver a superior customer experience.

Today, I’m glad to share with you, that even on the LTE side, Rakuten Mobile is one of the only operators that I know of today that has deployed a complete disaggregated architecture for small cell, even the CU and DU architecture of small cell have been separated. The entire small cell portfolio in Rakuten Mobile is built on Qualcomm FSM portfolio of chip sets. And between our home product, our enterprise product, we’ve deployed over 150,000 small cells in just a period of 14 months. This is just incredible.

And I’m excited to tell you that it is not just only started about small cell, but also we looked at an opportunity to disrupt millimeter wave. We think millimeter wave, used properly, is an enormous tool and advantage, especially for Japan, that there is a significant amount of opportunities for reflections. For those of you that came to Tokyo, it’s an absolutely massive jungle, an extremely dense area. So we think millimeter wave is absolutely critical technology for our success.

Now, you mentioned, Daniel, that the world has been talking about Rakuten, and indeed, they’ve been talking about Rakuten because we have taken a step to build an architecture that, frankly speaking, just did not exist. Open RAN was a heated topic of debate and discussion, and I’m glad to say that if people come to Japan and you see the experience that we’re delivering, that quality we’re delivering, it’s absolutely world class. And that’s what one would expect, it’s not just about lower cost and economics.

We’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned a lot in the last two years. I’ve had a lot of opportunity to talk to Durga and his team, that in the next version of the products that we want to build, what else do we want to do? What else should we focus on? And we dreamt together about some ideas and thoughts, about how to build highly disruptive, massive MIMO products, how to build an architecture for the DU that the world hasn’t seen yet.

So the gist of our announcement today is really a continuation to strengthen the partnership, and announcing that Rakuten Symphony will adopt Qualcomm cell site modem technology, an RU technology, to build one of the most advanced massive MIMO, 64T, 64R architecture, deliver it at a cost that the world hasn’t seen, frankly speaking. It is just absolutely, I can’t wait to see these products coming to life, and I’m super thrilled and excited to have the commitment from Durga and his team. And I know Cristiano is very committed to this infrastructure play, having the infrastructure, together with what we have done with Qualcomm on the mobile side, I think this makes tons of sense, to just announce it about this partnership today.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, and that’s a great background, Tareq, and thanks for doing that. One of the things I felt is so important over time is that people sort of look at 5G and they just think it’s one thing, it’s all created equal. One of the biggest opportunities to understand, that is not in fact the case, and there are varying levels. And of course, those of us that are in the beltway and in the business, we know that, we know there’s a difference. We know the difference between, your millimeter waves and sub sixes, and we certainly know the difference that the experience can create when you’re on a really, really great millimeter wave network versus a few bars on a sub six network somewhere out in a rural area. It’s massive. It’s not even close. I’d love for, Durga, to throw your way a question, about the importance here, and elaborating a little bit.

And if I can hit you up on one more, just because our audience is a mix, we certainly have your technology leaders, your CIOs, enterprise decision makers, but you also have policy makers, you have investors, and massive MIMO alone, for instance, is one of those things that I think we all know what it is, but as you break in and talk a little bit about why this is important, can you also unpack a little bit of the jargon? What is massive MIMO? You know what I’m saying? Talk about why it’s important, and unpack a little bit, some of that for us.

Durga Malladi: All right. Yeah, sure. So what I’ll do is, I’ll actually maybe take a little bit of time explaining the background of this announcement, and what are the technology pieces, why we think it’s actually extremely important, as we just think of the ecosystem in general. The vision of 5G is pretty expansive. It is a technology that is intended to digitize a large number of industries, creating new industries. And as a part of that, networks themselves have to evolve to be able to actually cater to the needs of these industries. A network that can actually work for nationwide, statewide, and all the way down to citywide networks, down to enterprise networks, it has to scale up and down. And at the same time, the network itself is gradually evolving, where in the classical view of a base station is a tower with the digital cabinet underneath and that was the general sense of what we all think of as space stations.

But what’s happening here is that you have the notion of the radios that are located in the towers, and a lot of the actual processing is probably done in data centers, which is close by, and that’s the whole virtualization of the infrastructure in itself. So this announcement that we have with Rakuten, as Tareq mentioned, it’s been a shared journey, a highly collaborative journey with them. We went through all the initial stages of the vision, lessons learned as a part of actually developing and deploying this in the field. And so I kind of look at this announcement as a natural combination of where we started off from, and it’s another step in our journey together as we move forward. The technology that we are talking of here is a combination of what is known as the virtual DU, which is something, that’s where the processing is done in the base band located in the data center, and the audio radio units, and specifically focusing on massive MIMO.

Now massive MIMO, as a jargon, I’m going to actually unpack it a little bit, why is that important? As we go into, when you take a look at the different bands that are used for cellular deployments globally, increasingly there is an adoption of what are known as the mid bands. We are no longer operating in the below two gigahertz, but all the way to 3.5 gigahertz and beyond. To be able to truly harness that spectrum, the best way of doing is to actually have a larger amount of antenna elements, that’s the massive portion of it. And the fact that you’re able to simultaneously serve a larger number of users, because capacity is important, these bands are actually intended for capacity. And in that sense, it’s a technology that is intended for harnessing the very best out of these bands.

What we are interested in, as a part of this entire announcement and the product itself, is that these products are O-RAN compliant. These are compliant with the actual specifications that were built by O-RAN groups, and what that means is that we are using open interfaces between different components in the infrastructure. And in addition to that, as we actually take a look at the evolution of those specs, it has to scale up and down as we mentioned, so 6TDR is nothing, but it’s like 64 transmit and receive chains that are there together. These are things that have never been done before, but it’s the first time. But to prove that using O-RAN based technology, you can actually go for high performance ratings, because in the end these are extremely cutting edge, high performance radios, and we are totally thrilled to be part of the overall portfolio of what Rakuten Symphony is going with. I hope I just addressed that level of the questions over here, happy to answer more.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely, and when someone offers to keep going, that sometimes does spark more questions. But for the sake of time, we may have to take some of that, Durga, offline. But online here, Tareq, I want to turn this back to you a little bit, because in the end, partnerships like this are generally designed to deliver what your customers are looking for, Qualcomm, of course, and for Rakuten Symphony. Talk about that. Who are you targeting? What are the customers that you think that this is going to make the biggest benefit for? And then of course, what kind of benefits are these products going to bring to the operators you partner with?

Tareq Amin: So I think when you look at the mission statement for Rakuten Symphony, and the aspiration for us to really connect everything and anything, one must ponder the disruption that we brought, together with Qualcomm over the last few years, was really driving virtualization and the element, that honestly speaking, is the costliest thing of deploying a mobile infrastructure, radio access. Until Rakuten launched Open RAN cloud architecture, I would argue, nobody had challenged the status quo. Network upgrades have been nothing but a massive forklift, so moving old cabinets, old hardware and repeating and rinsing the cycle over the years. And honestly, we thought that this is something that we needed to innovate and we needed to disrupt. So Rakuten Symphony, first customer, was actually Rakuten Mobile. It was the living lab. It was the living lab that we needed to go and validate, can this technology hold its merits? Can we deliver on the costs and economics that we need? Can we scale and make sure that we deliver on quality, performance and reliability?

And to be very frank with you, we were unwaivered about our commitment towards this journey, and we thought it will always work. We never thought that this technology is immature or still not ready. And largely, my confidence is just having the right partners that’ve got your back. I knew it, that if we worked together, not as a vendor, supplier and purchaser, but actually as just one organization, committed on finally unlocking the mysteries of radio access, we could do this world quite a bit of amazing things. For us, selfishly in Japan, we wanted to disrupt and democratize the mobile business. I’ve been always saying, publicly, that my cost structure minimum is 40% cheaper than incumbents. And if you’ve seen the recent news and analysts looking at our spend per base station, indeed, a lot of them now have affirming that this cost structure, indeed, is about 40%, than traditional legacy infrastructure that you would purchase.

So with that being said, imagine now a world, that we move away from complex hardware to virtualized software. What does that mean to the business case? Not only for 5G, let’s say assume 6G, 7G, regardless of the G, can we move into a world that we change the economics and the benefits of how radio access gets deployed? Can we truly enable a 40% total cost of ownership reduction? I mean, imagine if you’re spending billions of dollars in building a network, and Symphony and its partner says, “We’re willing to commit to a 40% reduction.” I think that’s significant.

So the target customers that we look at is not only service providers, I think there’s huge opportunities for mobile operators to take advantage of such an elegant technology. I have no doubt that Open RAN is the future. I have no doubt that this is the architecture that we have to build future foundation of telecom network.

But I also think that there are new opportunities that such disaggregated architecture is going to release, especially around private 5G infrastructure. And the combination of elegant technologies such as virtualized Open RAN, built on platform architecture that delivers on power efficiency, that in my opinion, next to nothing today. Wait till you see, and hopefully Durga and the team will share the product specification very soon, and people will understand why we’re excited about it. What we could deliver on power, cost, for the rest of the world, not just only focusing on mature economies. And maybe, maybe, for a change, we now say we have built a sustainable technology, it is addressing not only the urban centers and mature countries, but we maybe, maybe, are able to do something that we feel very good about, which is addressing the two billion plus people across the world that don’t have the basis of connectivity. They don’t have the basis because the foundation of the architecture is complex, too expensive, and nobody has changed it to date, until the recent announcements that has happened with Rakuten Symphony and of course, Rakuten Mobile launch.

So I’m personally very excited about this, we’re very committed to making sure that disruption continues to be materialized, and 40%, Daniel, is not little money to be saved off billions of dollars of deployment in 5G, and keep in mind, in a few years from now, we’ll be talking about 6G.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, absolutely, the coveted 6G, always good to spark a headline somewhere when most of the world is still trying to figure out what’s going on with 5G. But this is really exciting, I mean, you’ve sort of hit all the hot buttons, Tareq there, you hit the cost savings, you hit the higher performance, democratization, you’re going to make these operators more profitable, but also deliver a better experience to their users, which is key. If you’re cutting cost and it’s cutting performance, that’s risk. If you’re cutting cost and you’re improving performance, that’s a way to create the next generation of experiences. And of course, partnerships like this are going to build the future.

We’ve got just a couple minutes left. Durga, I want to put it back in your court, between the two of you, you guys excitedly answered a lot of my questions. So, I’d love to have you end the conversation here talking a little bit about what’s unique? What are we looking forward to? What else do people need to know, from your lens, about this announcement?

Durga Malladi: So, what’s really unique about this is that, just speaking a little bit from our product list, just thinking about that, what we focused on is a very energy efficient implementation because low power consumption is going to be highly important as we go into these massive MIMO products. And in that sense, we’ve focused on low power consumption while making sure that we have high performance ratings. So the capacity remains extremely high, while the power consumption remains very low, that is something that is kind of unique.

And as you know, we do this for a living on the other side of the fence, on devices, where power is everything. We focus so much upon power while making sure new features and new capabilities come in, so it’s kind of inherent in our DNA to always think about power while making sure that we think about overall network architecture.

The other part is on the DU, which is where a lot of the data center based innovation is happening, where what we have is actually what is known as an accelerator card, a PCI card that simply gets plugged in, into a server with a PCI slot, and then all the processing is done over there. Now you can start thinking of all the new applications, whether it’s low latency applications, edge computing, and even AI applications, that can be run in the same server, where the rest of the traditional signal processing and the base band processing is done. So that’s actually quite a change from how things are done today, and as we go across the entire portfolio of the products over here, we are providing solutions up to that portion. Obviously, Rakuten Symphony has got other assets that then get plugged in on top of it, but we are really looking forward to this journey together.

Daniel Newman: Absolutely. I love hearing about the disaggregation, it’s super popular right now in all sorts of different compute, how we’re seeing the evolution of separating security and networking and compute, to make sure that every application runs as efficiently as possible. So, definitely a heritage at Qualcomm of doing that in the mobile space and taking it here to the infrastructure side.

Tareq, Durga, I’d love to talk more, but we’ve got to wrap this up right now. Gentlemen, thank you so much for taking the time, for diving a little deeper, and for explaining this stuff so that everybody out there that’s listening understands just how exciting and how important this is. It sounds like a great future for Rakuten Symphony and for Qualcomm Technologies. As an analyst, I’ll be following this closely, I’ll be opining on it, but I would agree, Open RAN is definitely the future, and it’s going to take leadership from companies like yours to continue to bring it to market in a way that customers, service providers, and the world will be able to fully enjoy the potential of 5G and the technologies that will follow.

Tareq Amin: Thank you, Daniel. Thank you, Durga.

Durga Malladi: Thanks for having me here. Thanks, Daniel. Thanks, Tareq.

Daniel Newman: Thanks everyone for tuning in to this episode of the Futurum Tech Webcast. If you like what you heard, hit that subscribe button. We’d love to have you for more episodes of our interview series and all the other pods and webcasts and videos that we do here. For particular episode, though, it’s time to say goodbye. If you want to learn more, check out the show notes, we’ll put links to the announcements, and continuing coverage that we have of this exciting news. For this show, it’s time to say goodbye.

Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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