Japan’s leading online membership company Rakuten is set to challenge established mobile operators by using its huge customer base as the foundation to build its own network operations.

“We are the biggest MVNO in Japan today with 1.5 million subscribers, and have applied for spectrum so we can launch as a mobile operator and become a new and innovative challenger,” said the company’s chairman and CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, in a keynote speech.

The company, which claims to be the largest global membership firm with over 1.2 billion users, said that 76 per cent of its transactions in Japan currently took place over a mobile network, generating 86 per cent of total data traffic.

“All of the global online players will look to become MNOs as a more integrated business ecosystem,” said Mikitani. “We have the potential to become a very effective and competitive operator in the Japanese market given our track record in gaining customers and becoming the number one provider in various consumer sectors.”

To illustrate the company’s global ambitions, Mikitani detailed online operations Rakuten has established in the US, France and Germany, together with the deployment of its messaging service – Rakuten Viber – which has gained a leadership position in Russia and Central Eastern Europe with penetration rates in excess of 70 per cent.

Supporting this attitude to business innovation, Jim Whitehurst, president and CEO, Red Hat, said in the same Foundations of the Digital Economy session that adopting a conventional planning approach was dead. “We all now have to plan for disruption and ensure we equip a company for change. We need to shift from a focus on efficiency to one centred on innovation, and this will require agile and dynamic conversations that could challenge conventional management styles.”

“Critical to this innovation success is the need for hard conversations. Innovation is fluid, not episodic.”