Rakuten Mobile set the ambitious target of having full population coverage in 2021, as the newcomer accelerated a network deployment plan focused on reducing roaming fees and extending its unlimited to offer to all subscribers.
During an earnings call, chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani (pictured) said it previously targeted full coverage by 2026, but pushed forward by five years. The Japan-based operator previously said it aims to have 70 per cent population coverage by end-March 2021, when it will have deployed 8,652 base stations compared with 5,739 at end-June.
The unit’s operating loss surged in Q2 to JPY50.6 billion ($477.2 million) from JPY12.24 billion in the comparable 2019 period, on higher capex and depreciation costs. Revenue increased 61 per cent to JPY43.65 billion.
Mikitani said a revised timetable to begin standalone (SA) 5G service at the end of September stood: “We don’t want to rush. A big announcement will be coming soon.”
The CEO didn’t give an update on its latest subscriber numbers, noting the 1 million applications announced on 1 July is in line with expectations. “We’re about where we want to be. We’re using new technology, so needed additional time to check the quality”.
Mikitani added since it must pay roaming fees to KDDI, it is comfortable staying at the current place: “Financially this is the best strategy”.
Rakuten Mobile became the fourth mobile operator in Japan in April after deploying a fully virtualised network. Its Un-Limit 2.0 plan offers unlimited data when using its network, but has a 5GB cap when roaming on KDDI’s.
Addressing concerns about the low number of base stations compared with rivals, with about 200,000 sites each, CTO Tareq Amin said Rakuten Mobile’s technology delivers 30 per cent better coverage per site and is 40 per cent less expensive compared to traditional macro equipment.
He said average daily data usage is about 500MB, about two-times compared with rivals.
On a group level, Rakuten posted a net loss of JPY4.9 billion, compared with a JPY7.6 billon profit in Q2 2019, on revenue of JPY347.3 billion, up 13.4 per cent.