Using your smartphone in Japan just got a whole lot easier. Rakuten Mobile just announced it has surpassed a major milestone for its network rollout in Japan: achieving 96% population coverage for its 4G network. And they did it four years ahead of schedule.
Since full-scale launch in 2020, Rakuten Mobile is still considered a newcomer as a mobile network operator (MNO), having served only as a mobile virtual network operator since 2014 and launching full-scale commercial MNO service in April 2020 in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya. In the short period that followed, Rakuten Mobile has scaled its network faster than ever before.
“It’s really a group-wide effort and I can’t thank enough all the people that were involved. I really felt the power of the Rakuten Group.”Yoshihisa Yamada, President, Rakuten Mobile, Inc.
How Rakuten Mobile scaled a nationwide network in record time
Not only is Rakuten Mobile new to the MNO arena, its revolutionary technology is new to the telco industry, too. This tech was central to scaling their network to cover nearly the entire population of Japan in record time. Instead of traditional network architecture, which is highly dependent on dedicated hardware, Rakuten Mobile made the bold decision to take an innovative software-centric, cloud-based, open approach, building the world’s first fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network.
“We decided to take the challenge and shake up the industry. Now we have achieved 96% – but this is still a milestone, and the journey is going to continue. Let’s keep moving forward.”Mickey Mikitani, Chairman and CEO, Rakuten Group, Inc.
Speaking at an event held at the Rakuten Group headquarters in Tokyo to celebrate the historic moment with employees and partners, Rakuten Mobile President Yoshihisa Yamada took to the stage to express his gratitude to everyone involved.
“Achieving 96% in such a short period of time is an amazing accomplishment,” said Yamada. “It’s really a group-wide effort and I can’t thank enough all the people that were involved. I really felt the power of the Rakuten Group.”
This approach also allowed the operator to deploy simple and compact base stations and leverage technologies not traditionally linked to telecommunications, such as artificial intelligence (AI) to find sites for base stations and drones to carry out base station site and completion inspections. Innovative thinking like this dramatically enhanced the efficiency of its base station rollout.
But it is not all about the tech. Rakuten Mobile also focused on building strong partnerships with the base station construction companies working on the rollout. It also drew on the support of the entire Rakuten Group and its partners in the search to secure optimal sites for base stations, which contributed to the rapid expansion of the network coverage.
Tareq Amin, Rakuten Mobile CTO, also shared his thoughts on reaching the target. “I have been in this business for 26 years of my life – and I have never seen what has happened at Rakuten Mobile. The determination and spirit of the employees in this group is just unprecedented,” commented Amin. “Not only did we achieve 96%, but the tech didn’t exist before. When everybody said it was impossible, all of you made sure to deliver on this impossible dream. Thank you very much for all your efforts.”
For Rakuten Group CEO Mickey Mikitani, the achievement was also an opportunity to reflect on the reasons behind Rakuten’s entry into the mobile industry.
“We should remind ourselves what the meaning, the objective of this historical project is. It’s not just about the business. We are trying to democratize mobile networks. Before Rakuten Mobile, mobile subscriptions in Japan were very expensive, and were a huge burden for each household,” shared Mikitani. “We decided to take the challenge and shake up the industry. Now we have achieved 96% – but this is still a milestone, and the journey is going to continue. Let’s keep moving forward.”