Rakuten Mobile on Tuesday touted signups for its 3-month-old 4G LTE service, along with an international expansion for its Rakuten Communications Platform that it plans to sell to network operators and others globally.
Since commercially launching in Japan on April 1, Rakuten Mobile announced it has more than 1 million applicants for its unlimited 4G LTE wireless service. Rakuten plans to launch 5G service this year, though timing was pushed back by three months until the fall, citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rakuten Chairman and CEO and Rakuten Mobile CEO Mickey Mikitani in a statement called the figure “a terrific achievement.”
While the 1 million mark represents how many people have applied for Rakuten's wireless service, it doesn't mean they've all yet received a device or had service activated, though most are now officially subscribers, according to a Rakuten spokesperson. Rakuten isn't reporting its official subscriber number just yet.
“With an expanding Japan network and groundbreaking technology, we're looking forward to offering our growing customer base even more convenient, simple and low-cost services” Mikitani’s statement continued.
Rakuten deployed its greenfield build LTE network earlier this year, boasting benefits of lower capital investment and operating costs that it says come from the fully virtualized network architecture. Those savings are passed on to customers, with an unlimited plan that costs about $28 per month.
To boost its customer base at the get go, the operator has promoted free service for the first year to 3 million users – meaning another 2 million could still sign up and not pay for 12 months. A footnote on the release mentions the number of customers eligible for free service might change depending how many apply.
Exporting RCP globally
Rakuten worked with a diverse group of vendors to build its new mobile network, which uses common-off-the-shelf hardware and open software. The mobile operator is packaging learnings to sell within its RCP, aiming to ease cloud-based network deployments for telecom operators, governments, and enterprise customers globally.
As part of that effort, Rakuten Mobile, which is a subsidiary of e-commerce giant Rakuten, has opened a new international headquarters in Singapore, and plans to establish a U.S. office. The Singapore HQ will serve as the central location for global sales and marketing for RCP, led by Rabih Dabboussi, and be the site for further development of the communications platform.
Dabboussi was hired by Rakuten in May and previously spent 20 years at Cisco, including roles in R&D, technical consulting and business leadership. Following Cisco, Dabboussi worked to build startups focused on cyber security, secure mobile communications and digitizing government and enterprise systems.
“Rakuten Mobile has moved at incredible speed through ideation to full 4G service deployment in Japan and 5G service scheduled to launch this year,” said Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin in a statement. “RCP combines the technology blueprint and expert playbook of our work to date in building the world’s first cloud native mobile network, and I am extremely excited to work with Rabih Dabboussi and our international team to bring the platform to customers around the world as we democratize the mobile industry.”
Azita Arvani, general manager of Rakuten Mobile in the Americas, will lead the California-based U.S. office. Arvani started working with Rakuten in February and took her current position in March.
RCP brings together the technology blueprint and strategy of Rakuten’s mobile network build, which customers can tailor to their specific needs via an interface similar to an app store.
Earlier this month Arvani told Fierce Wireless that many operators have expressed interest in following Rakuten Mobile’s lead, calling RCP “the easy button.”
Dish is one operator in the U.S. that’s pointed to Rakuten as a good template to watch as the satellite TV provider and new owner of Boost Mobile moves forward to build its own nationwide wireless network.
“We’ve made great progress demonstrating the capabilities of RCP to the telecoms industry,” said Arvani in a statement on Tuesday. “We look forward to becoming a local partner to carriers and governments in the U.S. and the Americas region as they transition to a secure, affordable and cloud-native network architecture, and as they upgrade to 5G.”
In other RCP-related Rakuten news Tuesday, the company said two R&D initiatives have been chosen by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) to be part of a government funded project for “post-5G information communications systems.”
Starting next month, Rakuten will work on technical development for the 2- to 3-year projects and apply the results across its 5G network.
The first project is focused on adding new functionality to virtualized 5G RAN equipment, including optimizing virtualized baseband units for standalone (SA) 5G networks to support network slicing, among others. Research results will be applied to the RAN and Rakuten's RCP.
The second initiative is focused ion automation and integrated management for optimizing cloud-based networks, with the am of improving network efficiency by managing RCP infrastructure and network applications running on the platform.
Editor's note: Story updated to change 1 million 'subscribers' to 'applicants' and information added to reflect that not all applicants receiving wireless service from Rakuten yet.
Updated to clarify that most applicants are now official subscribers.