Japan's Rakuten teams with electric utilities for MNO business

05 Apr 2018

As part of its plan to become the country’s fourth mobile carrier, Japanese e-commerce giant Rakuten is teaming up with a handful of local electric utilities to leverage the latter’s infrastructure and facilities to build its own 4G mobile network in Japan.

The e-commerce firm signed an agreement last week with Kansai Electric Power Co that enable Rakuten to utilize the utility firm’s transmission towers, utility poles, telecoms towers and other facilities and equipment for its planned 4G network.

At present, Rakuten operates as a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) leasing network capacity from market leader NTT Docomo. The company announced last December its intention to enter the mobile network operator (MNO) business and has applied to Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications for a mobile license to build its own 4G network operating on the 1.7-GHz and 3.4-GHz bands.

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If the frequency band allocation is granted, Rakuten said, it plans to make use of Kansai Electric Power’s transmission towers, utility poles, telecoms towers and other infrastructure in and around Japan’s Kansai region for its base station locations.

As well as Kansai Electric Power, Rakuten also signed similar agreements with Chubu Electric Power Co and TEPCO Group in March, in a bid to build its mobile network in the most efficient way.

Rakuten, which plan to invest up to ¥600 billion ($5.6 billion) to build the mobile network, said it will also consider similar tie-ups with other electricity utilities to achieve nationwide service coverage, as it prepares for entry into the MNO business.

Rakuten launched its MVNO business under the Rakuten Mobile brand in October 2014. As of January 2018, Rakuten Mobile has over 1.5 million MVNO subscribers.

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