Rakuten released its Q1 2023 results earlier this month. Mobile segment revenue increased 25.7% YoY to $710 million but was down 11.5% sequentially compared to Q4 2022. Operating loss improved 22.4% to $760 million YoY with a smaller 4.7% improvement sequentially compared to Q4 2022.
Improving Customer Experience
In the short term, improving network quality is Rakuten’s main priority. Following a recent customer survey, Rakuten has launched several initiatives to improve customer experience, most of which will be resolved by a new roaming agreement with KDDI – which includes access to the latter’s sub-1GHz spectrum for the first time. This should improve coverage, particular in-doors such as in the home and in high-traffic shopping malls, as well as underground in subways, tunnels, etc. However, Rakuten urgently needs to build its own low-band networks – i.e. in the so-called “platinum” band – starting probably in early 2024.
Selling the Family Silver
Rakuten is still in a precarious situation financially and is in the process of selling more of the family silver to fund its mobile network roll-out. This includes IPOs and the sale of stakes in some non-core assets, for example, the Seiyu supermarket chain. The company has also pushed back its target date to become profitable from the end of 2023 to an unspecified time in 2024.
Challenges of Rolling Out Greenfield Networks
Rakuten’s experience over the past three years illustrates the challenges of rolling out a greenfield network in a mature market and the time, effort and investment required to achieve coverage and reliability on a par with better-heeled rivals. Indeed, many of these challenges have nothing to do with the choice of network architecture, i.e. open RAN. As a result, there are many lessons here for Dish and 1&1 Drillisch.
The silver lining for Rakuten, perhaps, is that it is primarily a tech company and its Rakuten Symphony division is starting to deliver meaningful revenues, which are projected to accelerate during 2023. Dish and 1&1 Drillisch do not have that luxury!
Exhibit 1: Summary of Rakuten’s Customer Churn Survey
The full version of this insight report, including all highlights and viewpoints is published in the following report “Rakuten Unveils Plan To Boost Subscriber Growth” available to clients of Counterpoint Research’s 5G Network Infrastructure Service (5GNI).