Jio and Rakuten are pioneers: Cisco

Cisco's network virtualisation solutions helped deploy Reliance Jio and Rakuten's mobile networks of the future.

India's Reliance Jio and Japan's Rakuten are pioneers for the mobile networks of the future, Cisco president of Asia-Pacific, Japan, and China Miyuki Suzuki has said.

"Reliance Jio had a vision of the possible; they wanted to transform the lives of the 1.2 billion people in India by building a 4G-only virtualised network," Suzuki said during the Cisco Live 2019 keynote in Melbourne.

"Cisco and Reliance Jio did this together in just three years, and now they have 280 million subscribers ... only Facebook had that rate of growth.

"The vision was access for everyone, and India went from being the 155th global rank in terms of data usage in the world to being number one."

All-IP, 4G-only operator Reliance Jio was formed in 2016 by oil and telco billionaire Mukesh D Ambani, who ramped up rapidly by offering very low-cost bundles. In mid-2018, Jio announced adding 28.7 million customers during a period of just three months, after adding 26.5 million in the prior quarter.

Independent benchmarking company OpenSignal called Jio's 4G availability and rapid rate of customer growth "remarkable" and "hugely impressive" at the end of 2018.

Both Jio and Rakuten are pioneers, Suzuki told ZDNet, with Cisco helping the former build out its evolved packet core and "deal with the hyper-density of the small cells".

"With Rakuten, it'll be the first virtualised and cloud-based [network]," she added.

"The wonderful thing about both these service providers is that they're pretty much greenfield, so unlike some of the existing telecommunication providers who need to think about how they utilise the assets they've invested in, how they make new 5G technology, for instance, coming forward backwards-compatible with their 4G networks and their fixed-line networks, these players can really do very pioneering things."

Jio was a precursor for Rakuten, with the latter's CTO hailing from Jio originally, bringing along with him the learnings from deploying a virtualised network.

"The benefit of Jio and then now Rakuten is they're starting telecommunications businesses from scratch," Cisco Australia and New Zealand CTO Kevin Bloch told ZDNet.

"Whereas for a Telstra, an NTT, or an AT&T, that's not so easy. They've got to transform their existing operations, and that's one of the challenges that existing incumbent operators have -- they've got to carry a lot of costs and complexity with them, whereas these players just cut loose."

Cisco is currently helping Japanese online marketplace Rakuten build the world's first fully virtualised, cloud-based mobile network, Cisco global director of Mobility and 5G Bob Everson last week told ZDNet at Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2019 in Barcelona.

For the Rakuten build-out, Cisco has lent its routing and switching hardware, software, and services across its cloud, IT, and service provider portfolios. The networking giant also provided its experts from engineering, security, operations, and multi-vendor systems integration.

Once deployed, the network will be fully virtualised, with multi-access edge computing; software-defined networking; centralised and regional datacentre capabilities; and full service and infrastructure automation.

Rakuten Mobile Network CTO Tareq Amin said his company's network will be "software powered and automated from top to bottom".

"With this design approach we mapped out with Cisco and a careful selected vendor ecosystem, we believe we can offer high-value services at more affordable costs, helping our customers to share the true benefits of cloud innovation," Amin said.

According to Amin, this virtualised, cloud-based approach is going to save his company at least 35 percent in opex compared to traditional mobile carriers.

Bloch explained that the network uses inactive hardware with no software in it, a trend that telco networks are moving towards due to the "massive benefit" of deployment costs. The intelligence now sits in the cloud rather than in the physical antenna.

"What you're seeing here is a network that is infrastructure as code. It's completely different," Bloch said.

By decoupling the hardware from the software, Bloch said Cisco is bringing the network's control and policy into one place.

The second benefit is using all the data coming in from the virtualised network to help operators make better decisions; shift tasks from humans to machines; and fix things before the customer knows there's an issue, such as providing more bandwidth and putting more antennas up in areas that are predicted to become congested.

"If you're running cloud native, then Rakuten can optimise how they build their infrastructure to run their operation; that's pretty powerful, because you can move your cloud application when Rakuten says it will be better on this cluster or that cluster without having to rewrite the code," Bloch explained.

Security in a virtualised network world

With the world becoming increasingly digitised, however, Cisco global COO Irving Tan said more security issues are expected.

"We also need to be mindful; we're fundamentally and exponentially increasing the attack surface ... it exposes us to more threats, data breaches, issues like ransomware and malware," Tan said at the Cisco Live keynote.

"In everything that we do, security has to be applied everywhere ... it has to be built in."

The average Asia-Pacific enterprise has to deal with 10,000 threats daily, Tan said -- and even more for multinational companies.

"Our CISO maintains the bad guys are winning ... I believe Cisco gets hit 20 billion times a day, Telstra gets hit 3 billion times a day," Bloch said, adding that there were 120 million new variants of malware last year.

However, infrastructure as code allows operators to "set not only policy but do some clever things with segmentation", Bloch explained, which will help maintain security across different network applications.

The addition of more and more artificial intelligence (AI) into the network will also help with security, the CTO said.

"We need AI to really take over and augment humans to prevent those 3 billion attacks a day, 20 billion attacks a day, you name it."

Disclosure: Corinne Reichert travelled to Cisco Live 2019 in Melbourne as a guest of Cisco

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