The Japan Times reports that e-commerce company Rakuten has revealed plans to partner with Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to help drive its planned mobile phone business in the country. The would-be mobile network operator (MNO) sees a tie-up as a way of keeping rollout costs down by using the power utility’s facilities under Tepco’s power supplier’s infrastructure lease services, which the paper notes were launched in 1999. Under the agreement, it is understood that Rakuten will be allowed to access the electricity company’s infrastructure, including transmission towers, utility poles and telecommunications towers. Details of the deal were reportedly included in Rakuten’s MNO business plan, submitted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) last month as it takes the next big step in its quest to become the country’s fourth mobile player. The e-tailer plans to prepare its base station network by leasing between 500 and 1,000 facilities from Tepco, mainly in the Kanto region.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, on 26 February 2018 Rakuten submitted an application for cellular frequencies to the MIC, with the stated aim of launching the new service in 2019, offering tariff plans linked to its online shopping platform in a bid to lure in customers. Rakuten – which has some experience of the market already via its MVNO venture with host network operator NTT DOCOMO that has amassed around 1.4 million customers – is targeting signing up around 15 million customers by the end of year ten, by throwing down the gauntlet to Japan’s dominant ‘big three’, DOCOMO, KDDI (au) and SoftBank. To help realise this, the group established a new wireless venture, Rakuten Mobile Network, in January 2018, with Rakuten’s chairman and CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, at the helm. The company will invest JPY600 billion (USD5.61 billion) to deploy base stations and ancillary infrastructure, it said. Rakuten also acquired Japan’s sixth largest smartphone maker Freetel in September last year.