Rakuten Mobile unveils aggressive launch strategy, plans US expansion

 

Japanese telco Rakuten Mobile, a unit of e-commerce giant Rakuten, has officially started accepting customer applications for its mobile service, scheduled to be launched next month.

Rakuten Mobile is initially launching a single unlimited plan with free service over the first 12 months for 3 million customers.

Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani, speaking at a press conference in Tokyo which was live streamed, said that customers can sign up for the Un-Limit Data plan at Rakuten Mobile retails shops or online.

The company said that after the first year, the package will have a monthly cost of JPY2,980 ($27.50).

Mikitani also said that the offering does not stipulats contracts or cancellation fees, but it charges a JPY3,300 administration fee.

With this announcement, Rakuten is following Indian operator Reliance Jio’s business strategy. The telco initially launched free data plans with the aim of building its customer base in the country.

Rakuten Mobile’s Un-Limit Data plan gives subscribers unlimited data when using its network, but is capped at 2 GB a month when roaming on partner KDDI’s network.

The Japanese company expects to launch its mobile service In April. Rakuten Mobile plans to offer nationwide coverage using rival telco KDDI’s network in areas where its network doesn’t yet reach.

In late September 2019, Rakuten Mobile had delayed a nationwide launch planned for October, instead introducing a trial service for a limited number of subscribers. The telco postponed the expected commercial launch as it had been experiencing some delays in the deployment of mobile base stations, according to previous reports. Mikitani had previously said that “full service would begin as soon as the company is confident of ‘stable operation’ of the new network.

Rakuten Mobile said its own network service area will cover the 23 wards of Tokyo, Nagoya City, Osaka City and parts of Hyogo prefecture. The company will offer nationwide LTE services to customers from the time of launch through services based on the roaming agreement with KDDI Corporation and Okinawa Cellular Telephone Company, to be provided outside of Tokyo’s 23 wards, Nagoya City and Osaka City and excluding high-traffic areas.

Rakuten Mobile said it already deployed 3,490 base stations. The company  plans to have 4,400 mobile stations by the end of March and exceed its target of 8,600 mobile stations across Japan by March 2021.

Rakuten has previously said that its launch will rely on what it claims to be the world’s first end-to-end fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network, which will allow the company to avoid deploying large amounts of hardware. The company highlighted that this virtualized network is cheaper to deploy and can be upgraded quickly.

“Rakuten Mobile is built for the cloud and will be the world’s first carrier operating a fully virtualized radio access network, or vRAN. The result is substantial reduction of capital investment and operation costs, flexible and fast deployment of new services, security, and significant savings to customers,” Tareq Amin, CTO of Rakuten Mobile said.

Rakuten Mobile also said that it is exploring opportunities outside Japan, starting first in the U.S. market.

As part of the firm’s expansion plan. Rakuten Mobile will appoint Azita Arvani as the general manager of Rakuten Mobile in the Americas. In her role, Arvani will build the Rakuten Mobile’s U.S. business and oversee its development, strategy, and deployment.

“As we look to introduce the Rakuten Mobile platform to the world, the U.S. market is a natural first step,” Amin added.

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