South Korea’s newest operator Stage X strikes partnership with Rakuten


The Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will see Stage X collaborate with Rakuten Mobile and Rakuten Symphony with regards to technology and strategy

This week, the newest mobile network operators in Japan and South Korea, Rakuten Mobile and Stage X, respectively, have agreed a strategic partnership alongside Rakuten Symphony that will see the trio collaborate on everything from network strategy to 6G technology.

The MoU aims to establish a framework for strategic collaboration between the three companies, encompassing the sharing of industry knowledge from Rakuten Mobile and telecoms technology from Rakuten Symphony.

“Rakuten Mobile and Stage X are the latest mobile network operators representing their respective countries, and together with Rakuten Symphony we wish to continue broad cooperation,” said Sangwon Seo, CEO of Stage X. “Rakuten Mobile built and deployed the world’s first fully virtualized, cloud-native mobile network with a modern infrastructure that ensures stable telecommunication services as the newest mobile network operator in Japan. As Stage X builds out its infrastructure to provide 5G services in the 28 GHz spectrum, we look forward to working with Rakuten and learning from their experience across a wide range of areas.”

Representatives from the three companies – including Co-CEO of Rakuten Mobile and President of Rakuten Symphony, Sharad Sriwastawa (center left), and CEO of Stage X, Sangwon Seo (center right) – met in Seoul to sign the MoU

Stage X, owned by a consortium led by tech giant Kakao Corp., is South Korea’s newest mobile operator, having won 28GHz (also known as mmWave) 5G spectrum at auction earlier this year.

South Korea itself has had a tumultuous time with mmWave spectrum. Whilst the nation’s 5G telecoms market is itself is one of the most advanced, the country’s three national operators – SK Telecom, KT, ad LG Uplus – have struggled to find a path to monetisation for the high-band spectrum, which they first won at auction in 2018.

By the end of 2022, an audit by the Ministry of Science and IT (MSIT) had discovered that all three of the operators were woefully behind their mmWave deployment targets. As a result, KT and LG Uplus had their mmWave licences revoked, with SK Telecom’s licence also revoked less than a year later.

With mmWave spectrum once again in the hands of the government, MSIT quickly devised a new plan to reauction the spectrum, with a tranche specifically set aside for a new market entrance. This spectrum was ultimately won by Stage X in February for $322.1 million.

The licence comes with significant rollout obligations, including deploying 6,000 base stations nationwide over the next three years.

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