At Rakuten Optimism 2019 (July 31–August 3), CEO Hiroshi Mikitani announced Rakuten will deploy 4,000 edge data centers throughout Japan enabling 96% population coverage by March 2026. The edge data centers will house baseband units of multiple base stations and multi-access edge computing (MEC) systems. Rakuten must rapidly develop the customer and application base to justify their aggressive 5G-MEC rollout plan.
Rakuten Mobile's planned end-to-end fully virtualized, cloud-based 5G mobile network has been well publicized. Rakuten is touting the key benefits of:
Reduced capex for network appliances and maintenance fees
Programmability and service agility
New revenue streams from new services
Mikitani further elaborated how MEC resources will be deployed at most of Rakuten Mobile's edge data centers, bringing more intelligence to the network, enabling latency intensive applications such as autonomous driving, and other AI-driven services.
Many 5G applications hold much promise; implementation, however, will be another matter entirely. Consider autonomous driving, will the 5G network plus MEC be reliable enough to provide and manage an application where human lives are at risk? What safeguards must be put in place in case of packet loss (which will occur) or security breaches? While the communication industry has become used to SLAs and best-effort based networks, safety has been and remains of utmost importance to the automotive industry. As such, it appears unlikely the automotive manufacturers will hand over much control of the autonomous driving vehicle to the 5G networks, especially in such early days of the intelligent connected car application.
In order to strengthen their intelligent car application development, automobile manufacturers have established partnerships with IT companies. For example, Audi and Huawei are conducting joint research on intelligent cars; Volkswagen and Microsoft are developing Azure-based connected car services; and Ericsson and Veoneer are testing advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous driving. It is still early days for intelligent car application development. Nevertheless, the digital transformation of the automotive industry is on its way, whether it is to be led by 5G service providers or the newly established automotive/IT ecosystem.
"5G in Japan: Large-scale rollout will require strategic infrastructure sharing," SPT002-000240 (July 2019)
George Hoffman, Principal Analyst