A welcome progress report on the buildout of Europe’s most distinctive new mobile network.
Squeezing in between TM Forum’s Digital Transformation World last week, and MWC Las Vegas this week, Rakuten’s annual Optimism event might not have received the attention it deserved from the telecom community. But make no mistake: the update on Germany’s 1&1 offered important new insights on Rakuten Symphony’s progress in disrupting telecom beyond its native Japan.
In conversation with Symphony CEO Tareq Amin, Chief Revenue Officer Rabih Dabbousi, 1&1 CEO Michael Martin gave new details of 1&1’s progress and thinking on key aspects of its plans.
As well as highlighting achievements to date at 1&1, the discussion offered insights into industry-wide concerns including security and energy optimization.
1&1 will be launching mobile broadband at the end of 2022. In mid-2023 they will have interconnections and partnerships through Telefonica (Germany). The fully cloud-native core network is in place and working. 1&1 is already the largest telco edge cloud network in Europe. The biggest challenge now is the rollout of antenna sites. Although an initial “thousand antennas” target has been delayed until mid-2023, the scalability of the rollout means that 1&1 expects to meet their required coverage milestones, namely, 25% population coverage in 2023 and 50% in 2024.
1&1’s network leverages edge computing, with four core data centers, 24 central data centers, and 500+ regional data centers, each of which serves multiple antennas within a 10-kilometer radius. Servers in regional data centers allow 1&1 to support very low latency to customers. 1&1 has been holding a friendly user trial over the last two months. Rather than emphasising raw network performance metrics (speed, throughput) in its trials, 1&1 has chosen to focus on experiential use cases (although they have also conducted sustained throughput tests over 24 hours, and 7 days). For their friendly user trials, they have started with gaming, to illustrate their network’s ability to support low latency, anywhere in the network – and anywhere an end user might require it. The trial uses a Minecraft server instantiated at an edge cloud site. Minecraft has the twin advantages of being both widely known (and therefore provides a familiar experiential reference point), as well as being free.
The results are certainly impressive, with typically a 3msec latency sustained between gamer and application server over the network. As Martin explained in more technical terms, 3msec latency is close to the theoretical limit for a TDD framing rate (the 1&1 network uses TDD rather than FDD). In more prosaic terms – a Minecraft player using the 1&1 network has the edge over another player on a higher-latency connection!
Network security (and Open RAN security in particular) is a key concern for all operators. In Germany, the topic has already been closely looked at by BSI (the German Security Agency) which investigated Open RAN. BSI provided a comprehensive assessment of the security of open RAN and made twenty recommendations on top of open RAN standards. Reviewing the recommendations against their own internal playbooks, 1&1 found that they had already addressed these issues and had already anticipated BSI recommendations.
1&1 is now working with the BSI in cooperation where both sides can learn from each other about the security needs of the country and the practical experience that 1&1 and Symphony have in securing a real live network.
Tareq also highlighted that cloud the cloud infrastructure used by 1&1’s open RAN network is fundmentally the same as that now used by governments and enterprises worldwide today. To question its use in telecom questions its use anywhere – and questions an entire global industry’s vast and ongoing spend to identify and address potential issues.
A 1&1 antenna site is much simpler than a conventional base station. There is one active antenna for 5G, one passive 4G antenna for 4G, and the radio unit. There is no air conditioning on site, reducing power and physical footprint (no sheltering) and no compute: all of this is 10 kilometers away at the regional data center. Each regional center can be handling 25 separate antennas, affording much greater flexibility compared to a traditional cell site where each baseband unit must be sized for the maximum usage of an antenna. A 1&1 baseband unit can be sized for the maximum combined load of 25 antennas and compute can be moved around as the need for capacity at a stadium or a motorway during rush hour is detected. This obviously has potential to reduce energy consumption.
This is an extract of a longer Research Note on the 1&1 update, containing additional detail and Appledore commentary, free to Appledore subscribers, or available for one-off purchase.