Utilize technology refined
through in-house practice
to drive digital transformation
of Japanese industries
Executive Vice President & CTO
Joined Tokyo Digital Phone Co., Ltd. the predecessor of SoftBank Corp.,
in 1993. Since then, has been involved in the construction of 2G, 3G, 4G,
and 5G communication networks. In April 2021, became CTO,
replacing Junichi Miyakawa, the current CEO.
Characteristics of SoftBank's Technology Strategies
Driving Japan's DX through technology
As a telecommunications carrier, SoftBank has been building networks while working to develop the technology to maintain them at the world's highest standards. In addition, being more than just a telecommunications carrier, we have also accumulated wide-ranging knowledge and know-how through analysis using big data and AI technology. While advancing our own digital transformation (DX), we have encouraged our customers to experience the benefits of innovative digital technologies by processing and delivering information of value to them. Going forward, as we continue to develop our telecommunications infrastructure for 5G/6G, we hope to contribute to driving the DX of Japanese industries and enterprises based on digital technologies.
One of the strengths we bring to these efforts is high communication quality. Experience has shown that when a 5G area exists as an enclave within a 4G area, communication quality may deteriorate at the boundary between the two areas. For this reason, we quickly expanded 5G coverage and made steady efforts to minimize the proportion of areas with low communication quality. That effort has borne fruit, and our mobile networks have been well-received externally. In addition to these public telecommunications services, our technological capabilities are another major strength in providing solutions to a wide range of needs for DX services in our Enterprise segment, which will drive our future growth. We accurately identify customer needs and implement the latest technologies and digitalization to solve them, while seeking outside partners for technologies that we do not have and taking on the challenge of solving unknown issues. This is how we've managed to accumulate experience faster than any other companies. As we continue to identify solutions in unknown areas, our technology and know-how accumulate and evolve, and we continue the cycle of sharpening our ability to produce solutions.
5G Deployment and Beyond 5G Strategy
Proposing DX solutions that only our company with communication technologies can offer
As of the end of March 2022, the population coverage of our 5G services was over 90%, and we are steadily increasing coverage according to plan. In the future, SoftBank aims to offer “Private 5G” services, which will utilize Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) technology to enable 5G use in localized settings such as construction sites deep in the mountains, using a distributed network arrangement instead of the conventional centralized type.
In fact, I proposed this term “Private 5G”, contrasting it with “Local 5G”. Originally, 5G MEC was conceived as a system in which data obtained from sensors in the field would be processed by an edge server, and only the results would be sent to a central server. Even if the communication speed is improved with 5G, if all the raw data obtained from cameras in the field is sent directly to the server, the line and server will soon run out of capacity. In such cases, we propose to proactively install AI in the camera and convert only the necessary data into text before uploading it to the server. This minimizes the data and enables much lower latency. We also place importance on understanding the nature of communication technology and making appropriate proposals on how to use the technology. For example, we developed a technology called SRv6 MUP* that enables a simpler, more scalable network configuration and does not increase operational complexity even when distributed by MEC.
Regarding Beyond 5G for example, we are actively involved in global standardization discussions on how to integrate the HAPS (High Altitude Platform Station) technology. HAPS is an unmanned aircraft system that flies in the stratosphere at an altitude of about 20 km and delivers radio waves to the ground, covering the same area as a ground-based base station. HAPS reduces the need to build base stations densely in a country like Japan, which is heavily forested and where only about 30% of the land area is inhabited. I believe using this technology to extend coverage three-dimensionally is an important theme for Beyond 5G.
Another key aspect of Beyond 5G, in addition to the technology to be incorporated, is the simplification of operations. In the construction of 5G base stations, setting detailed parameters for each base station is a major burden. The introduction of automated technology, similar to plug-and-play technology for PC peripherals, will simplify operations related to the construction and maintenance of base stations and will also help maintain stable communication quality.
- *SRv6 MUP stands for Segment Routing IPv6 Mobile User Plane, a technology that enables low-cost and easy implementation of 5G features such as MEC and network slicing. For more information, please refer to this press release.
Technology Strategies to Drive DX in the Enterprises
Building a platform for efficient scale-up
As I mentioned at the outset, while our foundation is in the telecommunications business with a focus on mobile and fixed-line telecommunications, we also focus on enterprise solutions that drive DX in enterprises. Our greatest weapon in this area is the experience we have gained from working on our own DX. At SoftBank, we first try things ourselves, and if we find something difficult to use, we improve it before offering it to our customers. We have the advantage of being able to make realistic proposals that meet the needs of our clients, since our knowledge and know-how are backed up by actual experience, not abstract theories. For example, we have already launched STAION, an enterprise platform developed based on these experiences. This is an AI video analysis platform that connects our edge device, which performs video analysis using cutting-edge AI, to the cameras used by customers and allows them to view the analysis results on the web.
In order to promote this kind of technological development, I believe it is necessary to come up with a business model that can serve our customers on a sustainable basis and establish a win-win system that balances the price we offer our customers with the value we provide them.
Meanwhile, with respect to the business model, the key point is to what extent we can build a common platform while meeting the needs of each company. When we analyze the needs of our clients, we find that the needs are quite different from industry to industry: the automotive industry, the agriculture industry, and even municipalities have their own specific needs. However, even though individual needs may vary, the platform that solves the problem does not require much customization. Therefore, I believe a major role of our engineering team is to consider how to develop a common platform that can meet the needs of each company while maximizing economies of scale.
Fostering Engineers Who Will Create a New Era
Accumulating know-how and successful experience through in-house DX
There are about 5,000 people in the Technology Unit I oversee, and many of the engineers responsible for new businesses such as IoT, AI, and DX were originally telecommunications engineers. As an engineer, it is of course important to delve deeply into a specific area of communications technology, but gaining experience in a slightly different layer can greatly broaden your perspective. I call this “expanding your dynamic range” (referring to the measurement of the range of signal magnitudes in sound, video, images, etc.), and I consider this an important principle in developing talent.
Under the slogan “Half & Twice” touted by former CEO Miyauchi in 2015, we have been working to make full use of new technologies to halve the number of man-hours and costs within the company while at the same time doubling productivity and creativity. Many engineers from the Technology Unit have been involved in this effort and have accumulated successful experiences automating various tasks with DX. This has expanded our engineers' “dynamic range” and accumulated know-how, which in turn has helped us to expand our DX solutions. In some cases, employees who were formerly telecommunications engineers went to customers with the enterprise team to provide DX consulting services. And they can offer more than just superficial DX consulting work; when it's based on actual hardships you have experienced yourself, it is more powerful and persuasive when you explain all the benefits from DX.
Today, these in-house DX initiatives are going well, but at first, I struggled to motivate my team to work on them. Looking back, the most important thing was to change the employees' mindset. To motivate them, I had to explain thoroughly how working on DX makes their job easier, eliminates errors and delays caused by human intervention, improves accuracy, and frees up time for other tasks that require creativity and ingenuity. The decisive factor in getting the program off the ground was the accumulation of small successes in working on the in-house DX, which made it fun for them. At that point, it ran on autopilot. The organization was set up and moved forward all at once. Whether it's an organization or a locomotive, you need the most energy when you first move a heavy object. I realized that my job was to add the first 20-30% of energy to get things moving.
These in-house DX initiatives in the Technology Unit subsequently spread throughout the company and accumulated as experience. This, combined with our strong sales force, led to rapid progress in our enterprise DX solution business.
The Mission Assigned to SoftBank
Freeing people from constraints and making them happier
More than a decade ago, when 33 workers were trapped in a cave-in at the San Jose mine in Chile, the first thing they did was to secure communications between the trapped miners and people on the surface. Establishing contact with the surface gave the workers hope, and all were rescued alive. As this example shows, telecommunications, the field we work in, is an infrastructure that connects people and delivers hope.
Today we live in an age where everyone has a smartphone, so the communication infrastructure is expected to be always available, and all activities are based on this assumption. Furthermore, digitalization is progressing rapidly in various fields, and not only communication platforms but also the data obtained through them are becoming lifelines. The technology of this essential communications infrastructure for people is now linked to DX and is key to creating a happier and richer future for people. Technology needs to be implemented throughout society so that all data is automatically linked behind the scenes, and I want SoftBank to be the company that drives this.
Meanwhile, the technological development of the communications infrastructure has enabled the creation of the Metaverse, a realistic virtual space, thereby ushering in an era in which people can see and experience things they could not before. Looking toward such a future, we are promoting technological development to realize a society where people can live stress-free. In an era like this, communications are required to be safer and more reliable than ever before, and we are even more aware of our responsibility to protect society. Ultimately, I believe that freeing people from constraints and making them happier will increase our corporate value and achieve our philosophy of “Information Revolution — Happiness for everyone.”
- Hideyuki Tsukuda
- Joined Tokyo Digital Phone Co., Ltd. the predecessor of SoftBank Corp., in 1993.
Since then, has been involved in the construction of 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G communication networks.
In April 2021, became CTO, replacing Junichi Miyakawa, the current CEO.