On April 8, 2020, Rakuten Mobile launched its mobile service as a 4th mobile carrier for the first time in 13 years. Rakuten Mobile has been providing mobile service as MVNOs since 2014, but what’s different from previous services?
This article explains the contents of Rakuten Mobile’s services, pricing plans, areas, speed limits and cancellation conditions, etc., which became Rakuten Mobile’s fourth mobile carrier after DOCOMO,KDDI(au), and SoftBank.
- Rakuten Mobile re-started as a carrier (the difference between MVNO and MNO)
- Narrow service area but covered by the roaming partner KDDI (au)
- Competitive all-you-can-use rate plan
- Several smartphone models but no iPhone
- No speed limitation ! No terms of contract !
- Flying after 2021
Rakuten Mobile re-started as a carrier (the difference between MVNO and MNO)
Re-start as a mobile carrier
Rakuten Mobile launched its mobile service as a mobile carrier for the first time in 13 years since e-Mobile launched it in 2007. On the other hand, Rakuten Mobile used to offer services as an MVNO, but what has changed after serving as MNO ?
Since MVNO Rakuten Mobile leases Docomo and KDDI(au) networks (lines) to provide services, the services that can be provided depend on the Docomo and KDDI(au). It is also expensive to lease lines, and it is not easy to come up with flexible pricing model.
Rakuten Mobile is the No.1 MVNO in Japan but decided that Rakuten Mobile could not expect significant revenue as long as they were a MVNO, so they decided to start our own service as a mobile carrier.
What is full virtualization that reduces infrastructure costs?
When Rakuten Mobile first launched its service, In the commercial, the word “the world’s first fully virtualized new generation network” was fully announced. This “full virtualization” is actually a great thing, but to be honest, most users didn’t understand the meaning at all.
In order to provide mobile communication services, infrastructure such as base stations that fire radio waves and core networks that authenticate smartphones are required, and this infrastructure cost is enormous in the mobile communications business, so it is difficult to launch the new mobile communications business.
Therefore, in order to reduce infrastructure costs as much as possible, new operator often enter by acquiring existing operators, but Rakuten Mobile is challenging the tremendous challenge of preparing all of its own infrastructure.
Building infrastructure from the start is a considerable cost, but Rakuten Mobile has succeeded in reducing costs by adopting a “fully virtualized network.”
So what does full virtualization mean?
Because the world of “communications” is a very niche market, the infrastructure required for communication has been developed as a facility dedicated to communications. In addition, because it was a dedicated facility, there were only a few major vendors in the world, such as Ericsson, Nokia, and Huawei, each developing its own dedicated infrastructure. Therefore, carriers had no choice but to purchase dedicated equipment developed by infrastructure vendors, and there were challenges in flexibility and price.
The solution to this problem is a technology called virtualization.
When you use a computer, you use applications (software) such as Word and Excel, and in the same way, the software is responsible for authenticating smartphones and updating location information in the communication infrastructure. Since the traditional communication infrastructure is a dedicated facility, these software is running on vendor-specific hardware, and the hardware and software are tightly integrated.
“Virtualization” is a technology that completely separates this hardware from the software and allows the software to be used flexibly on a variety of hardware, rather than vendor-specific hardware. This virtualization eliminates the need for specific dedicated hardware, allowing carriers to significantly reduce costs by purchasing relatively reasonable, general-purpose hardware and running the software they need on that hardware.
The transformation to introduce virtualization technology into telecommunications infrastructures has started for several years, and existing carriers are gradually moving their traditional infrastructure to virtualization infrastructure, but Rakuten Mobile is probably the first carrier in the world to have all of its infrastructure virtualized.
Narrow service area but covered by the roaming partner KDDI (au)
Rakuten Mobile was approved as a mobile carrier in April 2018 and launched full-scale service in April 2020, two years later. Rakuten Mobile is building infrastructure from scratch, so it takes a lot of time to build a service area that is comparable to other existing operators such as Docomo.
As of August 2020, the area status of major cities is as follows. The dark pink area is the area where Rakuten Mobile builds its own base station and provides services. As you can see, the area is quite limited in major cities as well. Because this limits the area where users can receive services, Rakuten Mobile has partnered with KDDI (au) and has introduced a mechanism to roam to KDDI’s network in areas where Rakuten Mobile does not have a base station. This makes the user available in at least the au area of the country. In the map below, the light pink area is the KDDI area.
As of the end of June 2020, the number of base stations nationwide is approximately 5,700, but by the end of March 2021, the population coverage will be 70%, and by the summer of 2021, the number of base stations will be approximately 27,000 and the population coverage will be 96%.
Competitive all-you-can-use rate plan
The main different points between Rakuten Mobile and existing carriers, DOCOMO, KDDI (au), SoftBank services are the pricing plans. Rakuten Mobile’s pricing plan is very simple, with only one Rakuten UN-LIMIT2.0 plan, and data communication and calls are unlimited for 2,980 yen per month.
Note, however, that Rakuten Mobile currently offers a limited number of areas and uses KDDI’s network outside of its own area, so the services vary slightly from area to area. Especially for data communications, the KDDI area is limited(up to) to 5GB, and if data consumption exceeds 5GB, the speed limit is applied and it becomes 1Mbps at the fastest.
1Mbps may seem like a stress-free communication speed, but it’s not. For example, the smartphone version of yahoo top page is about 240KB in size, but at a speed of 1Mbps, it takes about 2 seconds at the fastest time to display Yahoo’s top page. In environments with speed limits, the average communication speed will be in the second half of a few hundred Kbps, so Yahoo’s home page will take more than three seconds to display.
In the mobile world, If a web page takes more than three seconds to display, half of the users are said to leave the page. This means that users can’t wait three seconds to view a web page, and if it takes three seconds, they’re feeling that much stress. Therefore, on smartphones that have been speed limited to 1Mbps, web browsing is always a stressful browsing experience, so it is not very user-friendly, so be careful.
You should also be careful about all-you-can-use voice calls. For voice calls, a normal call is 20 yen for 30 seconds, just like other existing operator Docomo. You can use all-you-can-call, but this is only available when you use Rakuten Link, a new app offered by Rakuten. Although the use of the app is necessary, the service that all voice calls can be used all-you-can-use in Japan has become a very useful service for users with a lot of voice calls.
Several smartphone models but no iPhone
Rakuten Mobile has already been selling more than 10 types of smartphones. In addition, there are many smartphones that operation has been confirmed other than the smartphone that Rakuten Mobile has released, and these are the corresponding status has been published on the homepage.
Regarding smartphone models, Samsung, Sony Mobile, Sharp, as well as other companies such as Docomo, Models from major device manufacturers such as Huawei are on sale, but unfortunately the most popular iPhone in Japan is not on sale. For the iPhone, some models, such as the iPhone11 and iPhone10s, have been confirmed to work, but note that the previous models, the iPhoneX and iPhone8, are not available.
No speed limitation ! No terms of contract !
Tethering available as an alternative to Wi-Fi routers
Rakuten Mobile’s all-you-can-use data communication service does not limit the speed. This is not only for data communication on the smartphone alone, but also for tethering that connects PCs, etc.
The official website contains the following information. It doesn’t look like your speed is limited when the amount of data used per day or the amount of data used in the last three days exceeds a certain amount, which is often seen by Wi-Fi router providers. At the moment, Rakuten Mobile’s self-employed area is narrow, and the area where all-you-can-use real data is limited, but when the area expands, it is likely to be able to use Rakuten Mobile’s smartphone in tethering instead of a Wi-Fi router.
No minimum period of use
As part of the “Development of a System for Promoting Competition in the Mobile Market,” which has been led by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications since October 2019, it has been prohibited to impose high release fees for long-term smartphone contracts. In line with this, Docomo, KDDI (au), and SoftBank changed the contract cancellation fee from 9,500 yen to free or about 1,000 yen.
Rakuten Mobile, a new carrier, has not introduced a long-term contract since the start of the service, and can cancel the service free of charge except for administrative fees.
Flying after 2021
Rakuten Mobile, which launched its service in April 2020, is running a one-year free campaign for the first 3 million people. The number of users reached 1 million at the end of June 2020, but at this pace, this campaign is expected to continue for the time being.
The number of users is steadily increasing due to the free campaign, but it is important how many users will continue to use Rakuten Mobile at the end of this campaign, and how to differentiate themselves from existing operators such as Docomo.
At the moment, we offer all-you-can-use data communication and voice call services at reasonable prices, but the service area is limited and there is anxiety about using Rakuten Mobile as the main line. In addition, in the part of cooperation with existing Rakuten e-commerce services, there is only a special grant of Rakuten points, and I do not see any reason to dare to choose Rakuten Mobile.
In the future, when the area that Rakuten Mobile offers expands, the number of users will change greatly depending on whether it is possible to launch a collaboration with new services and existing services that will make you want to choose Rakuten Mobile other than unlimited data communication.