Rakuten Mobile, the fourth mobile operator in Japan with a new approach to network build, today (3 March) officially started accepting customer applications for its long-delayed service, introducing a single unlimited plan with free service over the first 12 months for 3 million customers.

Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani (pictured) said customers can sign up for the plan at its retails shops or online. After the first year, the package will cost JPY2,980 ($27.50) per month, with the executive noting it does not plan to offer additional data tariffs in future.

Mikitani, speaking at a press event in Tokyo which was live streamed, said there are no contracts or cancellation fees, but it charges a JPY3,300 administration fee. He said the company will make another announcement on pricing after the second year.

The operator is following Reliance Jio’s strategy of offering free service to build a customer base. Rakuten Mobile’s monthly tariff in the second year is about half the rate charged for high-data packages by rivals NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank.

Rakuten Mobile’s Un-Limit Data plan gives subscribers unlimited data when using its network, but is capped at 2GB a month when roaming on partner KDDI’s network.

The newcomer is scheduled to launch commercial services in April, offering nationwide coverage using KDDI’s network in areas where its network doesn’t yet reach.

In late September 2019, the company delayed a nationwide launch planned for October, instead introducing a trial service for a limited number of subscribers.

The network
Rakuten Mobile said it deployed 3,490 base stations, ahead of its commitment to the government. It plans to have 4,400 sites at end- March and exceed its target of 8,600 by March 2021.

CTO Tareq Amin said the company is built for the cloud and will be the world’s first carrier operating a fully virtualised RAN, resulting in a substantial reduction to capex and opex.

He said it can pass the cost savings on to customers, noting its network is 40 per cent cheaper than traditional telecoms infrastructure.

Mikitani emphasised Rakuten Mobile is not a standalone business and will tap its parent company’s user base and growing list of services including online banking, mobile payments and messaging apps.