Rakuten Inc. is looking to dial into the mobile carrier business by setting up its own relay stations throughout the country and acquiring a radio wave frequency, the major information technology firm has announced.

The Tokyo-based company is aiming to start the service by the end of 2019 after the communications ministry allocates the radio wave frequency for mobile phone use in 2018, it said.

The move would, if successful, make Rakuten the fourth biggest mobile carrier in the industry, which is dominated by the “big three” carriers: NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp. and SoftBank Group Corp.

The announcement was made after a meeting of Rakuten’s board of directors held in the morning on Dec. 14.

Rakuten plans to establish a new firm for the venture by early 2018 and borrow up to 600 billion yen (about $5.3 billion) from banks and other organizations by 2025 to set up the relay stations.

The first stations will be built in urban areas with big populations, supporting Rakuten’s aim to acquire 15 million subscribers.

Radio wave frequencies, which are used by the Defense Ministry and broadcasters, will be allocated to fourth-generation (4G) mobile phones by the communications ministry by March 2018.

The ministry will start accepting applications for the radio wave frequencies in January at the earliest. In similar offers of frequencies so far, they were mainly allocated to the big three mobile carriers.

The ministry is expected to favor a newcomer in its screenings for the planned allocation, giving Rakuten a good chance of winning the allocation if it can make sufficient preparations for the start of the mobile carrier business.

At present, Rakuten is engaged in the low-priced subscriber identity module (SIM) business under the brand name of Rakuten Mobile by borrowing communication lines from NTT Docomo. However, it has only about 1.4 million subscribers, including those of mobile phone brand Freetel, which Rakuten purchased in November.

In Japan, the number of subscribers of mobile phones currently totals about 160 million. Of those, about 90 percent are customers of the big three carriers. Rakuten Mobile accounts for less than 1 percent of the total figure.

Margins in the low-priced SIM business are small. In addition, pricing is highly competitive in the industry, as major carriers are also engaged in the business, making it difficult for Rakuten Mobile to increase its subscriber base under current circumstances.

As Rakuten has a strong customer base through such services as online shopping and travel, it is apparently thinking that it can increase its subscribers.

(This article was written by Kentaro Uechi and Shinya Tokushima.)