When Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani first began calling out Japan’s incumbent mobile companies for their high price plans, few could have predicted how far and how fast the company would come in its pursuit of “democratizing the mobile industry.” But here we are at the tail end of 2020, looking back on a remarkable year of progress. Here are six ways Rakuten Mobile has disrupted the mobile industry in 2020.
1. Rakuten Mobile launches service
In March, Rakuten Mobile pulled out all the stops to announce the launch of its mobile carrier service. The event featured musician, actor, and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador MIYAVI, whose song “Bang!” was featured in Rakuten Mobile’s marketing campaign to support the launch. MIYAVI, who had previously collaborated with Rakuten for the 2019 Rakuten Fashion Week Tokyo, joined Mikitani on stage to discuss their mutual drive to push through barriers and create positive change for society.
Six short months after 4G commercial service launch on April 8, the company also introduced 5G to key markets throughout Japan on September 30.
2. Disruptive Pricing
When Rakuten Mobile announced the details of its mobile carrier service plan, it disrupted the industry by offering unlimited data when connected to the Rakuten Mobile network and unlimited domestic calls though communications app Rakuten Link, with a single plan dubbed “Rakuten UN-LIMIT.” With a compelling price point of only 2,980 JPY per month (roughly US$28), Rakuten Mobile also offered 3 million subscribers free service for the first 12 months.
Rakuten initially introduced the plan for the roll-out of its 4G service in the Spring and included Rakuten Mobile’s 5G service at no additional charge when it went live in September.
3. World-first technology
Rakuten Mobile’s network is a world first. Building on the Rakuten Group’s DNA as an internet service company, the mobile network does away with traditional network architecture, disaggregating the software from hardware and leveraging virtualization and automation to create an innovative, fully-virtualized cloud-native mobile network. With the support of partners like NEC, Qualcomm, Cisco, Intel, Nokia, and many more, Rakuten Mobile has transformed the way the industry thinks about building networks.
4. Site inspections with drones
It’s not just external partners that play a role in supporting the network. Rakuten AirMap, an airspace management company and joint venture with U.S.-based AirMap, is providing Rakuten Mobile with a platform for inspecting base stations with drones. An excellent example of Rakuten Ecosystem synergies, the drone-based inspections allow for safer, quicker and more efficient site inspections.
5. A platform for the world: Rakuten Communications Platform
Since Rakuten first unveiled its plan to develop an end-to-end fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network, the world has been closely watching to see if the Japanese e-commerce pioneer could succeed not only in a new industry but with a never-before-seen approach. Now that the network is live, the dream has become a reality — and Rakuten Mobile is getting ready to bring its network architecture to the world through Rakuten Communications Platform, or RCP.
6. New original mobile devices for a new kind of network
When Rakuten Mobile announced its service launch in March, the new carrier did so in classic Rakuten Mobile style. Ever the mobile maverick, alongside the disruptive price plan and innovative, future-proof network launch, the introduction of the pint-sized Rakuten Mini bucked industry trends towards larger phones.
As one of the leaders behind the planning and development of Rakuten Mobile devices said, “We want to provide our customers with complete freedom in choosing devices and services. That’s why we are working to create affordable devices with features such as eSIM compatibility. Rakuten Mobile’s smartphones — the Rakuten Mini, Rakuten Hand and Rakuten BIG for example — are all eSIM-compatible and free of SIM lock restrictions.” (Tadashi Tsukamoto, Device Platforms Department.)
Unsurpringly, the Rakuten Mini — the company’s first mobile device built for the new gen network — was an immediate hit with media and customers alike. Rakuten Mobile enriched its lineup of original devices with the addition of Rakuten Big in September, and the Rakuten Hand and Rakuten WiFi Pocket in November.
A Strong Start
Rakuten means “optimism” in Japanese, and it is a fitting name for a company that is constantly looking to better itself, its employees, partners and society as a whole. The milestones Rakuten Mobile reached in its first year as a mobile network operator highlight Rakuten’s resilience and positive approach to innovation.
We can’t wait to see where Rakuten Mobile will take its service and technology in 2021 and beyond.