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Japan's 3G race heats up
Posted: 28-Oct-2002 [Source: Wireless Report]

[KDDI 3G CDMA users significnatly outnumber DoCoMo FOMA subscribers. Content, coverage, and cool handsets continue to be key in attracting new 3G subscribers for both providers.]

by Daniel Scuka, Wireless Watch Japan -- "In August, the Japanese traditionally return to their hometowns to celebrate O-Bon holidays to honor deceased ancestors. Some may think a similar ceremony should be instituted for NTT DoCoMo's 3G FOMA network which, if not quite yet dead, is certainly in grave need of resuscitation.

On July 31, the Telecommunications Carriers Association reported that the much-talked-about FOMA, based on the W-CDMA standard, had amassed a grand total of just 127,400 subscribers in nine months of operation, versus KDDI's 1,644,600 3G CDMA subscribers amassed in just three months. It's starting to look like DoCoMo have a major disaster on their hands, and there's little anyone can do about it except wait for the new W-CDMA infrastructure to be built out -- while the KDDI folks dance all the way to the bank.

The fundamental problem facing Big D is that W-CDMA is an entirely new network. The handsets, the base stations, and the network infrastructure are all brand- new and absolutely incompatible with the existing 2G PDC (personal digital cellular) system. As a result, during the time it takes DoCoMo to build the network, establish and test the base stations nationwide, refine the handsets, and devise some sort of 3G-bandwidth- optimized wireless Internet content, users of the system are largely involved -- whether they like it or not -- in what is little more than a massive beta test.

Despite the whiz-bang 384-Kbps download speed (maximum), a FOMA phone is still primarily -- Surprise! - - a phone, and most mobile dialers are not keen to buy an expensive handset (the D2101V still runs over $300) that won't give voice coverage nationwide and that still experiences blackouts in areas that are covered. Also, battery life remains a significant issue, with subscribers often enjoying less than a days' use before the handset dies. Finally, when the handset does connect to the network (and the battery, um, isn't dead), there's still only a single 3G-bandwidth-optimized content service for high-speed punters to enjoy, and that's the i- Motion video clip system. But even this disappoints. The videos are limited to 15 seconds, and watching lost of them will kill the battery even faster. Sigh!"

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