CommsUpdate: Japan’s upstart mobile network operator (MNO) Rakuten Mobile says it hopes to introduce services over the so-called ‘platinum band’ (900 MHz) from March 2024 – and will be able to do so at minimal cost.
That may be welcome news to investors, as Rakuten Mobile’s quarterly net losses widened to JPY120.9 billion ($860 million) in the third quarter of 2022, from JPY105.2 billion in Q3 2021. That’s despite revenue increasing by 62.5% to JPY89.3 billion.
‘Negligible’ capex for 900-MHz
Rakuten chief executive officer Tareq Amin recently informed investors on a conference call that deploying services in the 900-MHz band could be done at “extremely low” cost.
“We will utilise and reuse our existing base stations, all of the accessories from batteries, rectifiers, even fronthaul backhaul, dark fibre, where we reuse the existing infrastructure that exists,” Amin said.
“Also, the software for radio access is a technology that is owned by Rakuten Symphony. So thus, we believe that capex is negligible if you compare deployment of [the] platinum band of Rakuten Mobile versus other telecom companies in Japan or across the world.”
Rakuten has a long way to go
Rakuten Mobile’s in-deployment 4G LTE network reached 97.9% of the population at 30 September 2022, with 50,400 base stations on air at that date. The operator is targeting 99% coverage in 2023, when that figure will have increased to over 60,000.
Meanwhile, Rakuten Mobile says it has deployed 6,440 base stations across Japan. The company launched 5G in September 2020 in Tokyo, Kanagawa, Osaka, Saitama, Hokkaido and Hyogo.
However, Rakuten has a long way to go if it wants to challenge the might of NTT Docomo, KDDI (incl. UQ Communications’ mobile TD-LTE operations) and SoftBank in the market. Rakuten Mobile had only 4.55 million MNO and 630,000 MVNO subscriptions at the end of the third quarter, a market share of around 2%.
Meanwhile, last week Bloomberg reported that Rakuten is looking to cut headcount at its mobile unit to lure outside investors to inject more money into the business.
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