As part of a new roaming agreement, KDDI will provide roaming services to competing Japanese mobile operator Rakuten Mobile for the next three years.

Andrew Wooden

May 12, 2023

2 Min Read
Rakuten Mobile signs roaming deal with KDDI

As part of a new roaming agreement, KDDI will provide roaming services to competing Japanese mobile operator Rakuten Mobile for the next three years.

Rakuten will now lean on KDDI’s network in areas such as high-traffic shopping districts in Tokyo’s 23 wards and the cities of Osaka and Nagoya, on top of an existing roaming agreement covering indoor locations such as subways, underground shopping centres, tunnels, and rural areas. The new roaming agreement comes into effect in June 2023 and extends to September 2026.

KDDI committed to providing roaming services through its au network to Rakuten Mobile at the launch of its 4G service until the end of March 2026 – Rakuten Mobile says it now has 98% 4G population coverage, and they appeared to have agreed to expand the deal.

“Utilizing these roaming services allows Rakuten Mobile to provide subscribers with a more convenient service by improving network connectivity rapidly and efficiently, while at the same time limiting its financial burden,” read the announcement. “Additionally, by promoting the shared use of its infrastructure, KDDI will drive both the effective use of its 4G infrastructure and the rollout of its 5G network.”

Rakuten has also announced its Rakuten SAIKYO Plan, which does away with a previous limit on high-speed data capacity in the ‘domestic roaming partner network area’ – which appears to mean wherever it is tapping into another operator’s network – to offer unlimited high-speed data usage. The current Rakuten UN-LIMIT VII plan capped high-speed data at 5GB per month in such areas.

The new plan will be available for new subscriber applications starting June 1 2023.

The chief significance of the deal with KDDI and the new plan which it underpins seems to be about plugging a gap in Rakuten’s low frequency spectrum. The deal with KDDI gives Rakuten access to sub-1GHz spectrum which it didn’t have before, which is particularly important for getting signal through walls – hence the reference to indoor areas.

As reported by Light Reading, the operator had intended to spend around JPY570 billion between 2023 and 2025, but with the new agreement with KDDI in place it is now forecasting capex of JPY300 billion instead.

The phrase in the above quote about ‘limiting its financial burden’ seems to be a reference to the deal with KDDI allowing it to reduce how much it is spending on its rollout. It was also announced today Rakuten Mobile’s operating loss was JPY102.7 billion for Q1. It’s an improvement on a year before when it was JPY132.3 billion, but presumably reducing capex is still a high priority. While it must not want to essentially lease spectrum forever, the move appears to have allowed Rakuten to do that to some degree.


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About the Author(s)

Andrew Wooden

Andrew joins on the back of an extensive career in tech journalism and content strategy.

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