Rakuten plans April launch with 4,400 base stations

Rakuten Mobile says it’s making steady progress deploying 4G base stations with more than 3,000 now on air and a target of 4,400 base stations by the time it makes its commercial launch as a mobile network operator in April.

The company is in the midst of a trial period for its mobile network. It launched its Free Supporter Program in October 2019 with 5,000 participants. Today, it announced the expansion of the trial to an additional 20,000 participants.

RELATED: Rakuten delays full launch of 4G mobile network, builds its own smartphone

The Free Supporter Program gives participants voice and data services free of charge in exchange for customer feedback. The second wave of the program will include the launch of a beta version of a new dialing app called Rakuten Link. The app was developed by Rakuten Mobile based on the international Rich Communication Services standards. Rakuten Link allows users to make domestic and international calls to both mobile phones and fixed lines, as well as send texts and messages to mobile phones in Japan and overseas. The Rakuten Link beta version is available on Google Play to participants in the Free Supporter Program.

Rakuten chart

Rakuten Mobile also today opened six retail stores in Japan, including its new flagship Rakuten Mobile Ebisu Store. In addition to helping people to participate in the trial program, the retail outlets will also sell Rakuten’s own phone — the Rakuten Mini — along with other smartphones.

Rakuten and eSIM

The Rakuten Mini is a tiny phone designed for people who aren’t enamored with the trend toward giant cell phones, which don’t fit in pockets or small handbags. The Rakuten Mini is eSIM compatible and SIM lock-free.

RELATED: Operators fear eSIM, but Ericsson says it’s coming

Although eSIM is making its way into more phones, in some areas of the world such as the United States the eSIM capability is locked to a particular provider. So a customer with an eSIM iPhone, for instance, would probably still have to contact his current carrier to get the phone unlocked so he could switch to a different carrier, which defeats the whole purpose.

Global Data analyst Lynnette Luna has said that eSIM is moving slowly partly because “carriers are not wild about it” because “they’re afraid of high churn.”

But Ericsson recently announced it has developed software to automate provisioning and other back-office systems for devices with eSIM. The Swedish vendor acknowledges that there is fear among some service providers about eSIM, but Ericsson executives said eSIM is coming whether operators like it or not.