Fourth network operator: 1 & 1 is building its mobile network with Rakuten and Open RAN

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1 & 1 will build its German cellular network on the basis of the Open RAN standard and rely on the Rakuten Group, which already operates such a network in Japan. As the general contractor, Rakuten will be responsible for setting up and operating the 1 & 1 network, the company announced in Maintal on Wednesday. “With Rakuten we have the world’s only Open RAN expert at our side who really has extensive practical experience with this new technology,” said 1 & 1 CEO Ralph Dommermuth.

United Internet subsidiary 1 & 1 bought part of the spectrum at the auction of 5G frequencies in summer 2019 and thus prepared its market entry as the fourth network operator. After concluding a roaming agreement with Telefónica Deutschland, the establishment of its own network is now imminent. This should begin in the “next quarter”, it said.

Much work had already been done in parallel in the preparation and during the negotiations with Telefónica, Dommermuth said Handelsblatt. The company has a specific schedule for opening up the first half of German households, which is “very ambitious”. “In any case, we will comply with the requirements of the Federal Network Agency.” By the end of 2022, 1 & 1 must have developed a total of 1000 antenna locations

“In contrast to our competitors, we only build real 5G”, Dommermuth said to the newspaper. The antennas would be connected directly to the nationwide fiber optic network of the sister company 1 & 1 Versatel. In addition, more than 500 decentralized data centers are planned, “which are close to the antennas and enable real-time applications”.

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Open RAN uses applications from various suppliers and more standard hardware. More network components are virtualized in the cloud, with 1 & 1 it should be all network functions. “Thanks to complete virtualization and the use of standard hardware, we can flexibly combine the best products,” says Dommermuth. Open RAN reduces the network operator’s dependency on classic suppliers such as Ericsson, Huawei, Nokia or ZTE and their closed systems and long-term service contracts.

However, this also increases the effort involved in integrating the various components. Rakuten will also play this role. Antennentechnik will initially buy 1 & 1 from NEC, plus software from the US provider Mavenir. Rakuten contributes its own Communications Platform (RCP) with its access, core, cloud and operating solutions as well as orchestration software developed in-house. 1 & 1 can also fall back on the partner companies of Rakuten. Dommermuth estimates that the installation costs are about the same as those of the classic outfitters, but expects significant savings potential in ongoing network operations.

“Rakuten optimally complements our know-how in telecommunications networks, data centers and cloud applications,” said Dommermuth. After a few delays, the retail group had put its own cellular network into operation in Japan last year. “Through technical innovation, we have succeeded in offering high-quality mobile communications services at an affordable price that challenge the market,” says Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikita. “We are very pleased to be able to share this experience and this know-how with 1 & 1.”

The established network operators are already experimenting with Open RAN, albeit on an even smaller scale. Also because of the security concerns about the technology of Chinese suppliers Huawei and ZTE, the telcos are increasingly dealing with the topic. Telefónica Deutschland already has Open RAN in live operation at selected antennas in Landsberg am Lech and intends to start expanding another 1000 Open RAN locations in autumn. Telekom is testing Open RAN in Neubrandenburg.


Rakuten also wants to take over the US software provider Altiostar Networks. The US company specializes in Open RAN network solutions and is one of the suppliers for Rakuten’s cellular network in Japan. Altiostar software is also part of the Rakuten Communications Platform, which is now also being used to set up the 1 & 1 network. Telefónica Deutschland also uses Altiostar in its Open RAN tests. The takeover is getting loud Message at over a billion US dollars.


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