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Japan: Rakuten Mobile virtual network launched

The head of Rakuten Mobile, Mickey Mikitani, introduces his company.
Photo: MobileWorldLive The fourth mobile network operator was launched in Japan these days. His name is Rakuten Mobile. The name Rakuten is known in this country from its shopping portal, where various retailers offer their products together. The portal is one of the largest of its kind in the world.

Delayed start

The head of Rakuten Mobile, Mickey Mikitani, introduces his company.
Photo: MobileWorldLive As reported by the website Mobileworldlive, which is operated by the GSMA, Rakuten Mobile switched on its commercial 4G network in Japan last week with a six-month delay, making it the fourth mobile operator in Japan. The special thing about this provider: The infrastructure is completely virtualized.

At the start, Rakuten introduced an LTE tariff called "Un-Limit 2.0", which costs 2,980 yen (around 25.33 euros) per month. Unlimited data usage is included, provided you use the Rakuten Mobile network, which is currently only available in the major cities of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. In other places, Rakuten uses the services of the Japanese competitor KDDI and there the data volume is limited to 5 GB per month, originally 2 GB had been announced.

The new head of Rakuten Mobile, Mickey Mikitani (pictured), highlighted the advantages of being a member of the Rakuten Group ecosystem: "Our goal is to offer our customers a mobile service that is unmatched by any other provider". The "world's first large-scale use of a fully virtualized cellular network" can significantly reduce investments and operating costs.

What does virtualization mean?

If you buy a vacuum cleaner, you can only vacuum with it, but not wash dishes or cool frozen vegetables. As the apartment gets bigger, you may need a new (more powerful) vacuum cleaner or a new, larger freezer. With virtualization, all network functions and services are carried out as software on "neutral" servers, which cannot be on your own but, for example, in a cloud. If the offers or the demand change, it is possible to react more quickly by adding more virtual servers or by eliminating them. Since all of this takes place in the cloud, you simply have to book more server capacity there. This is (ideally) automatic.

Not everything can be virtualized (the example with the vacuum cleaner shows this), in the end there are also components in mobile communications such as broadcasting stations and antennas that cannot be used to manage tariff plans or to send newsletters.

Ambitious plans

Rakuten Mobile had already presented its tariff plans in March and now emphasized that it wanted to stick to its strategy of offering a free tariff for the first three million customers who register in the first 12 months.

Starting difficulties

Despite all the advance praise, the launch of Rakuten Mobile did not come until around six months later, it was originally planned for October 2019. The operator at the time justified this with a lack of specialist staff for the network expansion, which was caused by the preparations that were already underway at the time for the summer Olympics, which were to be held in Tokyo this year, which had now been postponed. However, Rakuten had set up a test network with the existing infrastructure and gradually expanded it with a view to the commercial start.

The new network wanted to have 4,400 base stations in operation at the official start, but there were currently no concrete details. Rakuten Mobile also pointed out that there may be some teething problems due to Covid-19, as "a number" of its cell phone shops in Japan were temporarily closed on April 2nd as part of measures to prevent the spread of the virus.

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