Rakuten Mobile chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani (pictured) expressed confidence its near nationwide coverage, strong user adoption and rising data usage position it for rapid growth next year and hit its target of reaching profitability by end-2023.

Mikitani said subscribers nearly doubled year-on-year to 4.11 million, noting if it can continue at this rate, “I don’t see any problem going forward”.

He expects roaming costs to decline from the beginning of April as it moves to its own network, which now covers some 94 per cent of the population. “Switching to our network will not only cut costs, but also increases ARPU and means data usage will increase.”

From the beginning of October, it started gradually decreasing the number of roaming areas, shifting nearly 39 prefectures off roaming support from rival KDDI.

It ended September with more than 30,000 LTE base stations, with another 10,000 sites ready to deploy once overdue components are delivered.

Operating loss in its fiscal Q3 ending 30 September increased 72 per cent year-on-year to JPY105.2 billion ($922.2 million) due to higher network construction costs as it stepped up base station deployments. Revenue increased 21.1 per cent to JPY54.9 billion, driven by users switching off free plans, uptake of new iPhone models and rising data consumption.

MVNO customers dropped below 1 million from 2.1 million at end-September 2020.

Growth track
The chairman explained the group has three objectives for Rakuten Mobile: make sure the standalone business is profitable, ensure it contributes to the group’s overall ecosystem and to create a scalable model for selling its software and platform, via its Rakuten Symphony unit.

The company estimates the addressable open RAN market will reach $150 billion in 2025, with Mikitani stating it wants the company to be the frontrunner in this business. It currently is conducting tests with six clients in the US, and four each in Europe and Asia.

Rakuten Symphony CEO and Rakuten Mobile CTO Tareq Amin noted Symphony’s next approach for growth is to tackle brownfield opportunities. “We think this is a massive opportunity to prove open RAN technology and cloud architecture are not only for greenfield operators.”

On a group level, net loss dropped to JPY26.8 billion from JPY44 billion a year earlier, while total revenue grew 12.6 per cent to JPY406.9 billion.