What’s up with… Rakuten Mobile, Stage X, SoftBank

  • Rakuten Mobile hits 7 million subs mark 
  • South Korea’s Stage X exits stage left 
  • SoftBank teams up with GenAI specialist Perplexity

In today’s industry news roundup: Rakuten Mobile edges past 7 million mobile customers after a minor growth spurt; South Korea’s Stage X is set to lose its mobile licence before it even launches services; Japan’s SoftBank is the latest telco to team up with generative AI search startup Perplexity; and much more!

Japanese telco Rakuten Mobile has had its highest ever three-month net increase in subscriber numbers, adding half a million subscribers in just over two months. The operator announced that its mobile customer base has surpassed 7 million as of yesterday (16 June), making the period between March and May this year its best yet in terms of subscriber additions. The company said this is largely thanks to new services and recent enhancements in network quality. “Rakuten Mobile will continue its efforts to improve network quality and expand its range of services so that all customers, from families to corporate clients, can enjoy best-in-class mobile services anywhere in Japan,” the telco noted in its statement unveiling the milestone. But it still has a long way to go to achieve real, competitive scale and make money: In the first quarter of this year, Rakuten Mobile reported revenues of 62bn yen ($396m), up by 7.1% year on year, and an operating loss of 73bn yen ($469m) (an improvement of about 25% compared with a year earlier) as it continues to invest in its network. 

In a dramatic and somewhat embarrassing episode, South Korea’s new competitive 5G greenfield mobile operator, Stage X, is set to have the licence it was awarded only earlier this year withdrawn by the country’s Ministry of Science and ICT. According to the Yonhap News Agency, Stage X, which was awarded the licence following an auction process, has failed to prove it has raised the capital needed – reportedly 205bn won (US$148m). The ministry is to start a procedure to revoke the licence before cancelling it, according to the Yonhap report. Stage X, a consortium headed up by mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) Stage Five, had planned to launch high-speed wireless services in the 28GHz spectrum band and was set to become the fourth mobile operator in South Korea, alongside SK Telecom, KT and LG Uplus. News of its apparent failure comes just over a month after Stage X began a technology and business collaboration with Japanese telco Rakuten Mobile and its vendor offshoot Rakuten Symphony.

Back in the land of the rising sun… SoftBank has partnered with generative AI (GenAI) search startup Perplexity. From 19 June, the telco’s customers will be able to apply to use Perplexity Pro (a paid subscription service for answers on the web) for a free trial for one year. The premium service will allow users to select from various advanced large language models (LLMs) and “benefit from a more comprehensive service”, SoftBank explained. It also added that the AI answer engine is capable of providing “highly accurate answers based on the latest information available on the internet while displaying information sources to ensure reliable responses”. Its partnership comes just days after South Korean telco SK Telecom (SKT) invested $10m in the GenAI developer, on the back of an earlier partnership between the two announced in February.

SK Telecom has reportedly launched an AI-based ad platform called ASUM 2.0, as part of a broader collaboration with US startup Moloco. According to a report by KED Global, the pair are looking to target new growth opportunities in the telco sector. Shin SangWook, VP and head of SK Telecom’s ad business, was cited as saying that SKT will strive to make inroads into the global ad tech market by enabling the K-AI Alliance (a union between telcos and tech companies) to counter “the walled garden of the ad industry” through its partnership with Moloco, which is a member of the K-AI Alliance, alongside other AI developers including Allganize, ImpriMed, CMES, Scatter Lab, MakinaRocks and FriendliAI. This is all part of the South Korean telco’s goal to become an “AI company” – see What’s up with… Deutsche Telekom, Teridion, tariff inflation, SK Telecom.

Africa Data Centres has secured 2bn South African rand (ZAR) (US$109.5m) in funding to expand its capacity and address growing demand for cloud computing services in South Africa. This was facilitated through a “bespoke financing solution” arranged by RMB Private Bank and will allow the company to boost its hyperscale datacentre capacity by an additional 20MW. According to the company, the move will enhance its position as “a leading player” in the African datacentre realm by enabling it to deliver “the highest standard of interconnected, carrier and cloud-neutral datacentre facilities”. Africa Data Centers operates hyperscale and edge datacentres across southern, east and west Africa. “The datacentre space presents a significant digital infrastructure opportunity, as there is currently a large deficit of supply versus demand. With the exponential growth in demand for datacentre capacity in Africa, we are proud to partner with Africa Data Centres as they facilitate digital transformation across the continent,” said Nana Phiri, head of the corporate client group at RMB.

In further datacentre news… Microsoft is reportedly planning to invest €6.69bn in the development of new datacentres in the Spanish autonomous region of Aragon. According to a Reuters report citing the regional government of Aragon, the tech giant had applied for a permit to build datacentres at a site outside the city of Zaragoza, with plans for the investment to be spread out over 10 years. The report comes after a recent announcement from Microsoft that it is investing €2.1bn in datacentres in Madrid. Aragon is emerging as a significant cloud computing hub in Europe, after Microsoft rival Amazon also unveiled plans to invest €15.7bn to build datacentres in the region over the next decade.

And in yet more datacentre news… Infrastructure investor Infratil has unveiled plans to raise 1.15bn New Zealand dollars (NZD) (US$704m) to both boost its global portfolio and advance the growth of its datacentre operator CDC. The funding ambitions are in response to increasing demand for datacentre capacity, with CDC deciding to accelerate its development and capital expenditure (capex) plans accordingly. As such, it has increased its total planned capacity to around 1,870MW, and aims to have it up and running, or at least under construction, by 2033. CDC was described by Infratil’s CEO, Jason Boyes, as “one of the company’s most successful investments”, with its stake currently valued at NZ$4.4bn (US$2.7bn) – or roughly 10 times the initial investment made by Infratil in the company in 2016. “Demand continues to accelerate on the back of cloud adoption and significant investments in generative AI. This rapid increase in demand has seen CDC enter advanced negotiations with customers for over 400MW of capacity at multiple sites across the CDC footprint with this capacity expected to come online over the next four to five years,” explained Boyes. Find out more.

- The staff, TelecomTV

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