Netrounds Hops on Rakuten Bandwagon


By: Mary Jander

Swedish startup Netrounds is the latest vendor to partner with Japanese operator Rakuten Mobile, which aims to produce the world’s first fully cloud-native, virtualized mobile network.

Partnering with Rakuten Mobile is a rite of passage for many suppliers interested in provisioning 5G networks in the future. Just ask any of the vendors on the lengthening list that includes Allot, Altiostar, Ciena, Cisco, Innoeye, Intel, Mavenir, NEC, Netcracker, Nokia, OKI, Qualcomm, Quanta, NEC, Red Hat, Tech Mahindra, Viavi, among others.

A few companies are notably missing from the list, such as VMware, though Rakuten's parent company has long done business with VMware. Also, it's not clear how some providers in the emerging edge compute market fit in, if at all.

Why Netrounds

Netrounds offers software that can run in either a virtual machine or container, testing and monitoring active network services, including virtual private networks (VPNs) and software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WANs). Netrounds agents are programmable, and they can be integrated with AWS, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

The fact that Netrounds agents can function in containers is vital to Rakuten. “The dream of where I want to push my team and everybody is to move into a fully completely microservices containerized architecture,” said Tareq Amin, CTO, Rakuten Mobile, in a recent interview. Virtualization is a good start, he said, but not “good enough to where we want to be.”

Netrounds, founded in 2007, recently took a Series A round of funding (amount undisclosed) from Fairpoint Capital and Swisscom Ventures. It has so far enjoyed success as a provider to Swiss telecom giant Telenor, among others.

Rakuten Slows Down

Rakuten Mobile originally planned to go live with 4G LTE services October 1, 2019, with roaming provided through deals with KDDI Corporation and Okinawa Cellular Telephone Company that would carry through 2026. In September, the provider unveiled a lottery for up to 5,000 "Free Supporters," offering free voice and data on the virtualized network through March 2020.

But so far, the commercial rollout is stalled, and Rakuten Mobile is taking operating losses while it continues to obtain 4G licensing and other aspects of its contracted facilities.

The delay isn't surprising. Industry-watchers were perplexed to hear Rakuten Mobile boast a one-year rollout plan to begin with. And it's likely to take even longer to produce virtualized 5G services, as infrastructure to support it will take time.

Meanwhile, Rakuten Mobile's partnership list continues to grow, and with it, supposedly, the promise of a mini-revolution in how mobile services will one day be offered.