South Korea startup operator Stage X lined up Rakuten Mobile and the Japanese company’s software unit as strategic partners to support the rollout of its greenfield 5G network, targeting service launch in the first half of 2025. 

In a statement, Rakuten Mobile explained an MoU with Stage X and Rakuten Symphony aims to establish a “comprehensive framework for strategic collaboration in technology and business exchange”, without specifying what services it will provide to the newcomer.

The agreement includes sharing industry knowledge and expertise with Rakuten Mobile and the delivery of services from Rakuten Symphony. 

The three companies will also explore expanding into mid-band frequencies and developing a 6G-based national network.

In April, Stage X announced it will provide free 5G data to all registered customers until its service ecosystem is established.

The operator, owned by a South Korean-based consortium led by messaging giant Kakao, won a bid for 5G spectrum in the 28GHz band in February 2024, paying more than twice as much than each of the three incumbents shelled out in 2018.

The Stage X consortium, made up of Kakao unit Stage Five and other local companies, paid KRW430.1 billion ($312.5 million) for 800MHz in the band. Stage Five, parent of Stage X, runs MVNO services in South Korea.

The Ministry of Science and ICT held an auction after cancelling the five-year spectrum licences of SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus for failing to reach a mandated base station deployment target in the 28GHz band. The operators met the government’s base station deployment target in the 3.5GHz band, which carries ten-year licences.