On December 8, 2020, Rakuten Mobile announced two new products in its lineup of original devices: the Rakuten Hand, a slim smartphone perfect for one-handed use and the Rakuten WiFi Pocket, Rakuten Mobile’s first original Wi-Fi router.
We spoke with the team overseeing the planning and development of these devices: Masashi Onogi, Hajime Seki, Kosuke Yajima and Kazuyuki Sato of Rakuten Mobile’s Device Strategy Department, along with Tadashi Tsukamoto and Hiroyuki Ito of the Device Platforms Department. In part two, we learn about the Rakuten BIG and the Rakuten WiFi Pocket.
Building an affordable 5G smartphone: The Rakuten BIG
What’s special about the Rakuten BIG?
Onogi: The Rakuten BIG supports both Sub-6 and mmWave high speed 5G. Driving it is Qualcomm’s Snapdragon™ 765G 5G processor, which is great for gaming. And of course, its large 6.9-inch display, which we’re getting the most out of with an in-display front-facing camera that doesn’t block any of the screen.
Tsukamoto: Right now, 5G devices are mostly at the high end of the price spectrum, which puts them out of reach for many customers. We developed this device because we wanted these customers to have access to a 5G device with an excellent cost-performance ratio. But it wasn’t just about cost-performance — to make mmWave possible, we needed to choose a partner with proven expertise. We put a lot of work into finding a trustworthy partner who was proactively pursuing 5G technology not just in Japan, but around the world.
How did you manage to make the device compatible with both Sub-6 and mmWave?
Tsukamoto: mmWave is excellent at transmitting data in uninterrupted straight lines, but it’s also easily affected by atmosphere and walls. When deciding on the materials for the back of the phone, we were originally planning on having a glass back. But we didn’t want it to affect the performance of the mmWave transmission, so we also considered making it out of resin instead. After repeated testing, we eventually settled on a balance of performance and design, going with a glass back and resin sides.
We also needed to ensure a pleasant user experience for our LTE customers, which is why we included the 4×4 MIMO* antennas, just like with the Rakuten Hand. This only works with band 3 — the band Rakuten Mobile uses — but by using four antennas, we can achieve speeds of up to 400Mbps. In addition to this, we built in additional roaming frequencies so that users can take the phone and use it overseas. With mmWave, Sub-6, 4×4 MIMO and these roaming bands we did have to build a lot of antennas into the phone, but I think we really made the most of the large space afforded to us.
The potential of eSIM-compatible devices
Onogi: All of the smartphones Rakuten Mobile has developed are compatible with eSIM. We want customers to have even more freedom when choosing their mobile service. From October, we eliminated SIM exchange fees for Rakuten Mobile customers, meaning it’s easier than ever to try out our eSIM devices.
Seki: I think everyone should try this. Switching carriers is an astonishingly simple process now.
Sato: Smartphones with dual SIM functionality, for example, can use two different SIM cards on the same device. If you assign a Rakuten Mobile eSIM to one of those slots, you can do the entire application process online and start using it right away.
Want to try out Rakuten UN-LIMIT V but don’t want to buy a new phone? Try this!
Seki: Customers who are interested in Rakuten Mobile but aren’t quite sure about it yet can try out the service using the Rakuten WiFi Pocket. We are a new mobile carrier, so it’s important that we provide customers with the chance to experience the network for themselves. With the Rakuten WiFi Pocket, customers can try out the Rakuten UN-LIMIT V plan by tethering to the device as a Wi-Fi router while keeping their current smartphone contract.
Ito: We developed the Rakuten WiFi Pocket to be a convenient shape and weight to carry around with you everywhere, with an easy-to-read display.
Sato: All you need to do is simply read the QR code displayed on the screen with your smartphone, and the Wi-Fi connects automatically.
Seki: Another thing that’s very important with mobile Wi-Fi is battery life. This device runs for around 10 hours on a single charge. More and more users are utilizing tethering on their smartphones these days, but that chews up a lot of their phone’s battery. This is a great solution for that.
Sato: And don’t forget the Okaimono Panda design! You can’t ignore how cute it is. I think the Rakuten WiFi Pocket is a great device for a really wide range of people.
*Editor’s Note: 4×4 MIMO (multiple input, multiple output) uses four antennas each simultaneously for sending and receiving wireless signals.