Rakuten Mobile’s improving network experience intensifies competition with Japan’s established carriers: industry report

It’s official: Rakuten Mobile’s network experience now surpasses its main competitors in a number of key areas – and it’s not far behind by several other important measures of high-quality telecom services.

Rakuten Mobile is showing “clear signs” of improvements in its network experience, now providing Japan’s best Upload Experience and 5G Upload Speed¹ – it also isn’t far behind in 5G Games Experience and 5G Video Experience, according to a report from global analytics firm Opensignal.

Opensignal compared the quality of Rakuten Mobile’s network with its three rival mobile carriers in Japan – NTT Docomo, KDDI au and SoftBank². Its research sheds light on how Rakuten Mobile’s network experience has changed since launching, how widely its network is available and how Rakuten Mobile matches up next to the country’s incumbent operators.

Better experiences, improved reach

The research split Rakuten Mobile’s network experience down into three categories – on-net, national roaming and overall experience.

On-net represents the experience when mobile users connect to Rakuten Mobile base stations in its radio access network, and includes both 5G and 4G services. National roaming is the connectivity resulting from Rakuten Mobile’s partnership with KDDI au – to date, only 4G technology has been available while roaming. The overall experience is the combined Rakuten Mobile network experience taking into account the crossover with both types of service.

Perhaps most significantly, the number of Opensignal’s readings that detected whether Rakuten Mobile’s network was ‘on-net’ – its own network that does not rely on partner roaming services – experienced a significant increase. In turn, this is driving a number of performance improvements on the network, and offers an encouraging glimpse of what Rakuten Mobile can deliver for Japanese consumers both now and in the future. Rakuten Mobile users connected on-net have a better 4G Upload Speed, 4G Video Experience, 4G Games Experience and 4G Voice App Experience than the average experience on the established three operators, while the difference in 4G Download Speed is narrower for Rakuten Mobile on-net users versus the incumbents.

Rakuten Mobile’s much-improved on-net experience is now more frequently available – the number of on-net readings grew from 55.7% in Q1 2021 to 94.1% in Q2 2023. This is causing a ripple effect across several aspects of network performance. In Q1 2021, there was almost a 7Mbps difference in users’ average 4G download speeds ‘on-net’ compared with overall (combined Rakuten + roaming services). Opensignal’s research shows that this difference in speed now sits at a mere 1.4Mbps.

Rakuten's radio access network performance for the past two years. Source: © Opensignal limited. Data collection period January 2021 - June 2023.
Testing on Rakuten Mobile’s radio access network has improved for the past two years versus roaming. Source: © Opensignal limited. Data collection period January 2021 – June 2023.

In 4G Upload Speed, Rakuten Mobile users enjoy much faster speeds compared to the average score across the established operators (20.1 Mbps vs 7.7 Mbps). As with average 4G Download Speed, average on-net 4G upload speeds are also rising dramatically. Combined with the much greater share of on-net measurements, this is boosting Rakuten Mobile’s overall 4G Upload Experience which is now little different to the on-net score (19.4Mbps versus 20.1Mbps on-net).

Gaming experience, sensitive to different types of network behavior beyond speed – multiplayer gaming requires the fast, reliable, on-time delivery of many small packets of data rather than a sustained throughput – is another area in which Rakuten Mobile is swiftly upping its game. Rakuten Mobile’s on-net and overall 4G Games Experience has been consistently very competitive with other operators – by Q2 2023, Rakuten Mobile’s on-net 4G Games Experience (81.9 Mbps) surpassed the average of the three long-established operators (80.9 Mbps).

The gap in 4G Download Speed is now decreasing, with Rakuten Mobile’s ‘on-net’ download speed at 37.6 Mbps (up from 27.6 Mbps in Q1 2021), compared to the other operators’ combined 40.5 Mbps average speed.

Rakuten Mobile’s results from Opensignal vindicate the company's wider mission - delivering competitively priced, reliable mobile services as a fourth operator in Japan.
Rakuten Mobile’s results from Opensignal vindicate the company’s wider mission – delivering competitively priced, reliable mobile services as a fourth operator in Japan.

Rakuten Mobile’s users are now experiencing much less time without a mobile network signal – in Q2 2022, Rakuten users spent 1.68% of time without a cellular signal, but this fell to just 0.91% in Q1 2023. Packet loss has been improving on both 4G and 5G. The 4G on-net packet loss percentage has fallen from 3.5% in January to just 2.6% in June, which is below the average of the three established operators (2.8%). On 5G, packet loss has also improved during 2023, falling from 3.3% in February to 2.2% in June.

These results are all positive signs that go some way towards vindicating Rakuten Mobile’s wider mission – delivering competitively priced, reliable mobile services as a fourth operator in Japan. Rakuten Mobile launched in April 2020 with the aim of building an innovative mobile network using virtualization, an Open Radio Access Network (Open RAN), software-based innovation as well as new, diverse vendors. Rakuten Mobile has been widely praised for its commitment to deploying its network in a unique and innovative way – as the world’s first cloud-native, virtualized telecom network based on edge computing, and this approach is beginning to yield meaningful results the show how it is improving connectivity for Japanese consumers.

*¹ Opensignal Awards – Japan: Mobile Network Experience Report April 2023, based on independent analysis of mobile measurements recorded during the period December 1, 2022 – February 28, 2023  

*² Opensignal analysis – Rakuten’s improving experience is increasing competitive pressure in Japan, July 2023. © 2023 Opensignal Limited

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