"Keiji Tachikawa, president of NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. (NTT DoCoMo), gave a keynote speech at NET&COM21, saying this year is the opening era for "mobile multimedia."
"The event, a comprehensive exhibition of information systems and solutions, opened at Makuhari Messe on Feb. 2. An excerpt of his speech follows.
"For the past four years from 1995, the number of cellular phone subscribers increased by 10 million per year. It is expected to increase, though at a slower pace, by eight to nine million in fiscal 1999, but it will likely exceed 50 million by the end of this March. The market size of mobile communications expanded 10 times for the past six to seven years. In fiscal 1992, it was approximately a 576-billion-yen market, but has swollen to 5.5 trillion yen in fiscal 1998. (107.43 yen = US$1)
"However, it is self-explanatory that the mobile communication market will soon stop growing, provided only voice communication services are on offer. In the future, we have to shift to "non-voice" communication, or mobile multimedia services.
"Key factors to implementing mobile multimedia are three-fold: installation of networks in the right way, development of terminal systems and exploitation of network services.
"First of all, communication networks must be well arranged to support various data transmission speeds. Currently, personal handyphone system (PHS) services provide and support 64kbps, the digital mobile phone system 9.6kbps to 28.8kbps, and the pager system 6.4kbps. NTT DoCoMo will start an IMT-2000 service at a maximum transmission speed of 2Mbps in the spring of 2001 for the first time in the world.
"In the mobile communication world, advanced technologies are introduced periodically. The analog mobile telephone, which we can say was the first-generation mobile phone system, started in 1979 and ended in March 1999. The second-generation digital mobile phone appeared in 1993, and I think its life is assumed to be 20 years or so. It is true the third-generation IMT-2000, which is expected to start in 2001, will require another 10 years until the next version of the IMT-2000.
"NTT DoCoMo has already undertaken the study of the fourth-generation mobile communication system. It will be a service focused on image transmission with a much higher speed than that of the IMT-2000.
"The IMT-2000 network is characterized by variable data speeds and asymmetric packet communication. Being the world standard, handsets that are used in Japan will also be used overseas as well. In Japan, applications for a license will be accepted in the spring of 2000. We expect we will be granted a license by the summer. After that, our company will start building networks, hoping to start operation in the spring of 2001.
"Regarding IMT-2000 coverage area, we would like to expand it to all over Japan in earlier stages. Initially, at the beginning of 2001, the population coverage ratio will be 22 percent, then 60 percent in 2002, 90 percent in 2003 and we will cover as high as 97 percent of the population in Japan in 2004. By 2005 we will have our foundation firm for being able to provide our multimedia services nationwide.
"Without having sophisticated mobile terminals, we will not be able to realize mobile multimedia services. IMT-2000 will be equipped with color displays as standard. It must be provided with mobile video phones equipped with a digital camera. These terminals are assumed for uses not only for providing calls with the calling party's face on the video screen, but also for various applications. The conventional mobile phones had nothing but one category of voice, but IMT-2000 will come with such various categories from voice-oriented terminals to mobile information terminals.
"In addition, we will put our focus more on network services. As its basis, we have already announced "iMode," an information service for mobile phones, and "mopera," an Internet connection service. Notably, the number of iMode service subscribers exceeded 3.7 million on Feb. 1, 2000 in the one year since the service's inception. We estimate that will increase to 4.8 million subscribers by the end of March this year. As it employs packet communication, users can use it feeling as if they are keeping their phones connected full-time, and they can pay less per minute.
"For a future iMode enhancement, we are thinking of implementing a Java support capability within 2000. This will allow iMode users to do mobile banking and other transactions with improved security.
"We are set to provide iMode on the IMT-2000 without fail. We will provide a higher quality service with a higher speed than the current service. Even when the users access the Internet from their mobile phones, they will have access to, or browse Web pages, just as fast as with a PC.
"Besides, we inaugurated location data services in January 2000 in the use of mobile phones. As a tempting item for the year 2000, we are preparing to provide a music distribution service via PHS data communication, and a service with a car navigation system synchronized with the iMode service. For business users, we will build a data center to share information with intranets via mobile terminals. To provide this business user service, we established a joint company with Microsoft Corp.
"In the future, we will continue to provide diversified services linked with mobile communication and IP services. For that purpose, we would like to partner with Internet providers, application service providers and contents providers.