Rakuten Mobile, which last month became the fourth mobile operator in Japan after deploying a fully virtualised network, delayed a 5G launch scheduled for June by about three months, citing the impact of Covid-19 (coronavirus).

In a statement, the operator said it will continue to place the highest priority on the safety of employees and partners staff, and monitor the impact of the pandemic while preparing for the 5G launch. It added there are no plans to change base station deployment plans for the current fiscal year, which had been submitted to the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

Deployments of 4,738 total base stations to date exceed the 4,400 targeted at launch (these base stations are able to handle 4G and 5G traffic). The company has contracts in place to install 10,000 sites soon, and plans to reach 70 per cent population coverage by March 2021.

On an earnings call this week, CTO Tareq Amin said the hardware buildout had not been delayed by lockdown measures, but noted some validation tests were hindered by limited laboratory access. He reiterated this point in a tweet today to journalist Keith Dyer:

Its 5G radio unit hardware suppliers are Airspan and NEC. The software element of the open RAN network is provided by Altiostar.

Incumbent operators NTT Docomo, KDDI and SoftBank all introduced 5G services in late March, so today’s delay will see the newcomer trail rivals by six months.

The delay comes just two days after chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani (pictured) said with retail outlets closed in the country it is facing a shortfall in daily 4G additions and acknowledged there is room for improvement. He set the new target of signing up 3 million subscribers by year-end, but did not reveal how many customers attracted since the network launch.

Rakuten Mobile began accepting customer applications for its long-delayed launch in early-March, introducing an unlimited plan with 12 months of free service for the first 3 million customers.