Japanese e-commerce firm Rakuten last week signed an agreement with Kansai Electric Power Co to use the utility company’s transmission towers, utility poles, telecoms towers and other facilities for its planned 4G network in the country, TelecomAsia reports. The move, which would see Rakuten using infrastructure in the Kansai region for its base station locations, follows similar deals with Chubu Electric Power Co and Tokyo Electric Power Company (Tepco) to help drive its planned mobile phone business in the country. The would-be mobile network operator (MNO) sees the tie-ups as a way of keeping rollout costs down. Rakuten, which reportedly plans to invest up to JPY600 billion (USD5.6 billion) to build the new mobile network to challenge the three incumbents NTT DOCOMO, KDDI and SoftBank Mobile, said it will also consider similar tie-ups with other electricity utilities to achieve nationwide service coverage.
As previously reported by TeleGeography’s CommsUpdate, on 26 February 2018 Rakuten applied for 4G-suitable 1.7-GHz and 3.4GHz cellular frequencies to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (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’. 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. Rakuten also acquired Japan’s sixth largest smartphone maker Freetel in September last year.