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5G networks

Japan's Rakuten delays 5G rollout by 3 months over coronavirus

Indian lockdown disrupts software development

A 5G tower in the U.S.: Rakuten's bigger rivals have already launched 5G connection in Japan.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Rakuten announced Friday that it will postpone the launch of its 5G mobile network planned for June by three months, citing development disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

The e-retailer fully launched its mobile service in April, six months later than it originally planned. Another delay could deal a heavy blow to consumer confidence in its services.

Rakuten's existing mobile network is the first fully virtualized, cloud-native network in the world, the company said. The technology allows it to quickly and cheaply deploy mobile services.

The company had planned to use the same technology for its ultrafast 5G network as well. But the coronavirus lockdown in India has impacted software development, and delayed a necessary test to ensure the network will function properly.

Rakuten is now working on conducting this test in Japan instead. It has not altered its plan to set up 677 5G base stations across Japan by the end of March.

The company booked a 35.3 billion yen ($329 million) net loss for the January-March quarter, partly due to investments for its mobile business. The six-month delay for its initial mobile service rollout, combined with the latest three-month delay for 5G, could hurt the company's image.

Meanwhile, Japan's three leading mobile carriers -- NTT Docomo, SoftBank Corp. and KDDI -- launched fifth-generation service in late March. They expect a limited impact from the coronavirus since they were ahead of schedule in building the necessary infrastructure, though some negotiations for new base stations could be postponed.

SoftBank says it is now behind on about 10% of base station installations, with certain buildings refusing access to workers amid the outbreak. Still, "this is within what we had anticipated in our initial plans, so we do not need to change our outlook at this point," said Tomohiro Sekiwa, head of its mobile network division.

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