Rakuten to become Japan's fourth mobile operator

Japanese eCommerce firm Rakuten has been given the thumbs up to become the country’s fourth mobile operator, according to reports.

Japan’s Internal Affairs and Communications Ministry advisory board have approved Rakuten’s application for a 4G spectrum license, according to reports in the Japan Times and other local media outlets.

The decision to grant Tokyo-based Rakuten – which runs the largest eCommerce site in Japan – a licence still needs to be rubber-stamped by the ministry itself, but it will mark the first new entrant in the market since the approval of eAcces, which is now part of SoftBank, 13 years ago.

Rakuten already offers mobile services through an MVNO but, once the slice of 1.7GHz band spectrum is approved, is planning to launch in 2019. This will include up to 600bn Yen ($5.6 billion) in funding for base stations, according to the Japan Times.

It aims to cover around 96% of the country’s population by the end of 2025. In order to save costs, it will also look to lease infrastructure from other utility facilities such as those of the Tokyo Electric Power Company.

Rakuten’s entry could shake up the established Japanes market, which currently has three major players – NTT Docomo, KDDI, and SoftBank. It has set a target of acquiring at least 15 million subscribers over the next decade and will aim to compete through an affordable pricing model.

According to the Telecommunications Carriers Association, NTT Docomo had 75.68 million subscribers as of December, followed by KDDI with 50.64 million and SoftBank at 39.5 million.

“We hope to set up our mobile service infrastructure effectively by taking advantage of artificial intelligence,” Rakuten President and Chairman Hiroshi Mikitani has said.Speech

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