Rakuten Mobile unveils disruptive tariff to shake up Japanese market

Ahead of a hard launch next month, new Japanese MNO Rakuten has announced an ‘unlimited’ tariff that massively undercuts the incumbents.

The ‘Rakuten UN-LIMIT’ tariff seems to borrow its marketing from T-Mobile US, but its core inspiration from Reliance Jio. Not only does it come in at 2,980 Yen per month, apparently less than half of what’s currently on offer, but Rakuten is also offering the first year of service for free to the first three million punters who sign up.

“For around two years, the Rakuten Group and Rakuten Mobile have been building a new network unlike anything the world has ever seen,” said Rakuten CEO Mickey Mikitani (pictured). “Everyone at Rakuten is working together to democratize the mobile industry. Rakuten will become the only major carrier in the world to offer a single pricing plan. Currently, we aren’t looking to launch any other plans.”

The unlimited side of things does come with a few caveats, however. You can see the full tariff table below, with its various qualifiers. A key thing for prospective Japanese punters to bear in mind is that as soon as they’re out of range of a Rakuten base station a 2 GB per month limit kicks in and data speeds are significantly throttled.

*1 Unlimited when connected to Rakuten Mobile’s base stations. Subscribers can confirm which area the data they are using is from via the My Rakuten Mobile home screen.
*2 If data usage in the partner area (domestic) exceeds the data allocation, data speeds in the partner area (domestic) will be limited to a maximum of 128kbps. Unused data will not be carried over to the next month.
*3 The partner area (overseas) refers to the 66 countries and regions where international roaming (data) can be used. If data usage in the partner area (overseas) exceeds the data allocation, data speeds in the partner area (overseas) will be limited to a maximum of 128kbps. Unused data will not be carried over to the next month. Usage from outside the 66 countries and regions will incur charges depending on the country/region.
*4 Additional data purchased can be used for 31 days. Additional data for partner areas in Japan and overseas must be purchased separately.
*5 Please check “2. Voice calling and SMS fees” below.
*6 From overseas, standard calls cannot be made or received, and standard SMS cannot be sent or received.

The party line is that Rakuten can offer all this lovely cheapness because its network, which it built from scratch, is just so damn efficient. “We are extremely delighted with what we have accomplished in Japan,” said Rakuten CTO Tareq Amin. “We have deployed the world’s first Open RAN platform, not because the phrase ‘Open RAN’ sounds like good technology, but because there are cost reductions that we feel an obligation to pass on to consumers in Japan.

“We are one of the only telecommunications networks that can claim to have standardized, 100% open interfaces, and full control of our software and network framework. This is something that we are so extremely proud of. Thank you to all of the employees and partners that made this vision.”

Right now Rakuten seems to only be covering a few major cities in Japan. While it has aggressive roll-out targets, subscribers outside of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka may be disappointed by how infrequently their connections are either free or unlimited. But this aggressive positioning is still bound to win over a lot of Japanese punters and put heavy price pressure on the incumbent MNOs.

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