Rakuten Mobile: Zero Declaration redefines customer expectations with disruptive technology

Zero yen to join. Zero yen to transfer numbers. Zero yen calling and messaging through the Rakuten Link app, even 5G ⁠— for Rakuten Mobile users, it’s all zero yen.

At a virtual press conference hosted earlier today in Tokyo, Rakuten Mobile announced its Zero Declaration: A commitment to improve convenience and reduce unnecessary burdens on customers. 

“We want to turn preconceptions of mobile carriers upside down,” Rakuten Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani declared at the press conference. “We’re trying to simplify the expensive, extremely complicated plans that are commonplace today and usher in a ‘new normal’ for mobile carrier fees.”

Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani wants Rakuten Mobile to redefine what customers expect from their mobile carriers.
Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani wants Rakuten Mobile to redefine what customers expect from their mobile carriers.

Sign-up fees, phone number transfer fees and, of course, contract cancellation fees have been a part of Japanese mobile contracts for as long as most users can remember. With the Zero Declaration, Rakuten Mobile users will be paying a grand total of zero yen for these services ⁠— the same amount they’re paying for 5G service, calls and messages through the Rakuten Link app, and for 3 million users, their entire mobile plan for the first year.

“Why are we able to do this? It’s because Rakuten Mobile’s network is completely different from existing mobile networks. It’s a whole new generation of technology, fully virtualized and cloud native. It’s all controlled with software,” Mikitani explained at the conference. “It’s like switching from a gasoline car to a Tesla.”

In building the world’s first fully virtualized cloud-native mobile network, Rakuten Mobile has been able to dramatically reduce capital investment and operating costs compared to traditional industry standards. “We’re passing those savings straight to our customers,” Rakuten Mobile President Yoshihisa Yamada told journalists. This gives Rakuten a significant competitive advantage.

“A big positive.” Rakuten Mobile President Yoshihisa Yamada (center) was joined for a Q&A session by CMO Naho Kono (left) and CTO Tareq Amin (right).

“It’s no small advantage ⁠— we’re some 70% cheaper than other mobile plans, which is an overwhelming difference,” Yamada said. “Even those mobile users who have been with the same carrier for years are reading about us in the newspaper and hearing about policy movements regarding the industry and thinking, let’s compare plans. It’s an opportunity for people who had never even considered switching carriers before to take a look and discover how good Rakuten Mobile’s service is. So any discussion on this topic is a big positive for us.”

No more having to wait for days to get connected: Japan’s first implementation of eKYC for mobile contracts

Another way Rakuten Mobile is looking to make the switching process even easier is through smart identity verification. ID is required when signing up for a mobile contract in Japan, and while verifying that ID is straightforward at a physical store, signing up online has traditionally necessitated other methods of identity checking, such as verification upon delivery of the SIM card at the customer’s home address.

That’s set to change with Rakuten Mobile’s implementation of a new “AI Kantan Honnin Kakunin” (AI Easy ID Verification) eKYC (electronic Know Your Customer) service for online contracts, starting November 9. Through the eKYC service, customers will be able to verify their identity with their own smartphone by simply photographing their driver’s license and their face. There are also plans to add an IC chip reader function in the future to accept applications made with government-issued My Number Cards.

“Applying online is definitely easier than going to a physical store,” Rakuten Mobile CMO Naho Kono said at the conference. “However, having to send copies of your ID and having to wait for the physical delivery of your SIM card meant that it took a long time to get connected.”

A first for any Japanese carrier: Naho Kono explains Rakuten Mobile’s new eKYC implementation.

Rakuten Mobile’s eKYC service utilizes the “Digital KYC” identity verification service supplied by NEC Corporation. With the new eKYC service, customers can quickly and securely verify their identity and complete their contract online. 

“We have reduced the time required for service activation from the hours that it would normally take in Japan to minutes,” explained Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin. “We respect human time, which can be put to better use than sitting in a store trying to activate a mobile plan. Today if you go to our digital channels, in three minutes you could activate a line with Rakuten Mobile. I think that’s a massively disruptive innovation.”

For customers who have eSIM-compatible devices, the process is nearly instantaneous. “Using eKYC and eSIM together means we can open a user’s account as soon as they apply. You’re connected the very same day,” Kono told journalists. “This is the first time any Japanese mobile carrier has implemented such a system.”

With eKYC, new Rakuten Mobile customers can verify their identity completely online.
With eKYC, new Rakuten Mobile customers can verify their identity completely online.

With this redefinition of expectations, Rakuten Mobile is stoking the technological development of mobile networks worldwide, as well as disrupting the local mobile market in Japan.

Watch the full archived video of the press conference here:

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