Most Americans think of Japan as manufacturing world-class cars and consumer electronics. But Japan is also a tech-services superpower that encourages online commerce, embraces artificial intelligence, exports innovative video games, and works in partnership with the U.S. to revolutionize mobile connectivity.
As President Biden prepares to visit Tokyo this month, Japan and the U.S. should look beyond simple security cooperation. These allies should construct a deep digital partnership, increasing connectivity infrastructure while reducing dependence on China.
The Ukraine crisis shows the importance of such an alliance. Japan has joined the U.S. in standing up to Russian aggression. My company’s messaging service, Rakuten Viber, a market leader in Ukraine, allows Ukrainians to keep in contact with family and friends anywhere in the world. For a country whose culture has traditionally been as insular as its geography, Japan has opened its doors to Ukrainian refugees. It has also taken steps to cut trade with Russia.
Our company’s most ambitious new project is to revolutionize mobile-phone networks. Historically, a few large vendors provided costly proprietary systems to network operators. Our Rakuten Symphony business is software-driven, is based on open standards, and runs in the cloud on commercial off-the-shelf servers. It runs 4G and 5G, and because it’s based on software, operators won’t have to wait until the next generation to bring more services to their customers. Our next-generation Open RAN network is live in Japan, and we’re building a similar system in Germany.
This open-network approach has many advantages. It costs 30% less to build and up to 40% less to operate than traditional networks. It is secure. We know exactly what is going into our network, controlling it at every layer from manufacturing to deployment. There are no black boxes. It’s automated. It’s intelligent. It prevents security mishaps before they happen. And we use no Chinese equipment.
For competitive and geopolitical reasons, the U.S. and Japan need to work together to spark a mobile-technology revolution. This revolution will be based on a new cloud-connectivity software layer. Open RAN plays a key role in this architecture, and while much of the hardware comes from Asia, we have extensive experience incorporating American technology. Many of the chips for our new network come from American suppliers, including
and Qualcomm. Seventy percent of our cloud technologies and software come from Americas businesses. And our IP Network Technologies come from U.S.-based
Japan and the U.S. have signed a joint initiative for a democratic internet. This initiative affirms our commitment to protecting and respecting human rights online and across the digital ecosystem. Japan and America need to take a strong stand together to keep the internet free and open.
Mr. Mikitani is founder and CEO of
Rakuten Group Inc.
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