Rakuten, the increasingly diversifying Japanese e-commerce giant, is looking to establish its own independent mobile network. The company intends to apply for part of the 1.7GHz and 3.4GHz spectrum rights in Japan when the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications opens applications for those frequencies early next year. Presently, Rakuten operates an MVNO using leased capacity from market leader NTT Docomo. Alongside second and third-place carriers au and SoftBank, the three companies effectively hold control of the Japanese mobile network.
Rakuten's current MVNO business has only about 1.4 million subscribers, according to the Asahi Shimbun. Per that report, regulators appear to favor a newcomer to the relatively stagnant mobile market. Rakuten plans to invest 200 billion yen ($1.78 billion) to bring the network online by 2019, with a total 600 billion yen ($5.35 billion) investment by 2025. The company apparently hopes to add 15 million subscribers.
While the prospect of building a new mobile network seems like a peculiar decision—particularly in Japan, which is not exactly a growth market—this looks like a convergence move by Rakuten. The company has already acquired instant messaging service Viber, the streaming video platform Viki, and operates the Edy payment system.