The Nikkei business daily reports that Japanese e-tailer Rakuten is considering issuing bonds worth up to JPY200 billion (USD1.86 billion), as it pushes ahead with its plan to enter the domestic market as the country’s fourth mobile network operator (MNO). Japan’s biggest e-commerce company submitted an application for cellular frequencies to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) in February this year, aiming to launch 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’, NTT 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 to deploy base stations and ancillary infrastructure, it said.
Earlier this month, the MIC gave the thumbs up to Rakuten’s MNO bid, with its advisory panel suggesting the move would be ‘appropriate’ in the current climate. It is understood that the new entrant’s green light was in part dependent on Rakuten securing sufficient funds to roll out a nationwide network capable of offering a resilient and stable service, and maintaining its financial viability to enter the market. As a further strand to its rollout plans Rakuten will locate network bases at utility facilities including those of Tokyo Electric Power Co (Tepco), Chubu Electric Power Co, and Kansai Electric Power Co. The newcomer hopes to cover 96% of the Japanese population by the end of fiscal 2025. Until it establishes its own network throughout the country, Rakuten will lease network capacity from NTT DOCOMO and other major carriers.