Rakuten gets go-ahead to use 700 MHz band

Rakuten Mobile announced that it will begin expanding its mobile network in the 700 MHz band after securing approval from Japan’s Minister of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Based on the approval, Rakuten Mobile will start using the 700 MHz band “in order to provide even higher quality mobile service to customers,” the company stated.

The dates set for the deployment take into account timelines for a range of preparations required for operations, but arrangements are underway with the aim of launching operations “as soon as possible,” the company added.  

Profitability goal of 2026

Shortly after Rakuten announced the 700 MHz approval, Reuters reported that Rakuten Group will invest $362.81 million to construct cellular base stations. According to Reuters, Rakuten plans to deploy 10,661 base stations for the “Platinum Band” frequency and now expects its cell phone business to turn profitable in 2026.

While Rakuten Mobile has advanced open Radio Access Network (RAN) and virtualized networks, the company’s mobile phone business has struggled to make a profit and take market share from incumbents, which include NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Softbank.

In a report for investors earlier this year, New Street Research (NSR) analysts said one of Rakuten’s key priorities is to reduce its roaming bill. Therefore, it’s likely to deploy the 700 MHz band as a coverage layer for when its 1700 MHz spectrum isn’t available. However, it could also choose to deploy some of the capacity for VoLTE to improve voice service.

More recently, they noted that Rakuten cannot deploy 5G in this band. Given that Rakuten is far behind on 5G, it’s going to be even harder for Rakuten to gain customers going forward, the NSR analysts said.

Rakuten Mobile began building its greenfield wireless network in Japan in mid-2018, and in 2020, it announced the full-scale commercial launch of its 4G mobile service. Rakuten launched 5G Non-Standalone (NSA) service in some regions in September 2020.

Full of surprises

In a surprise move in August, Tareq Amin abruptly departed as the CEO of Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony. Last week, Amin posted on X about his next mission: “contributing to the incredible push for a digital revolution in Saudi Arabia!”

His LinkedIn profile shows his title as CEO of Aramco Digital, the arm of the giant oil company that’s dedicated to digital transformation of the oil and gas industry. He told TelecomTV that he would explain the scope and charter of his new role when the official announcement is public.

Amin’s separation from Rakuten was followed by the departure of Azita Arvani, the North American CEO of Rakuten Symphony, in mid-September. Arvani posted on LinkedIn that her journey with Rakuten started in 2020, when she was the first executive in the Americas, and she thanked colleagues and mentors for their support and collaboration throughout her time at the company.