For the past several weeks, WWJ has been emailing J-Phone to set up an interview for our video newsmagazine. We finally settled on a date, and they asked us to submit our outline questions. J-Phone PR’s Matthew Nicholson responded to some of these earlier this week, and herewith we present a summary of his comments, wherein J-Phone reveals (almost all) about brand image, “plastic” roaming, and handling spam mail.
Status of 3G deployment plans? What about 3G-optimized content?
J-Phone started trial 3G services on June 30, says Matthew. Commercial services will start in December, with two handsets — one from NEC and one from Sanyo. There is no 3G content planned right now.
What percentage of Sha Mail users actually transmit the pictures, instead of just saving them locally?
Matthew was unable to answer, citing the fact that Sha Mail doesn’t transmit the pictures as a separate photo and a message, but rather as a single, large mail. “To our system, it just looks like someone has sent a really big mail message,” he says, so they don’t know precisely how much of the traffic to ascribe to Sha Mail photos. For J-Phone non-voice revenues, Sha Mail is included under “messaging” — not “mobile Internet.”
How has the integration of business culture gone between Japan Telecom/J-Phone and the new Vodafone owners?
Matthew says this “is hard to answer — it’s still early,” adding that “the change in ownership only happened last year.” Hmmm… true enough, but recall that last November, shortly after the takeover, the Japanese press reported that Gnocchi Yoshida, slated to take over as chairman of J-Phone Ltd., was instead shuffled off to the post of senior managing director after a Sept. 3 Financial Times interview in which Yoshizawa was quoted as saying that Vodafone “is good at the money game but not in operations.” J-Phone at the time denied any connection between his revised posting and the remark. WWJ suspects that there must have been at least some interesting mutual cultural growth happening in the past six months.
How will J-Phone’s brand strategy change in 2002/03?
“Take a look at the recent Sha Mail commercials — they target more than just youth,” says Matthew. He says that instead of only youth, J-Phone is targeting “people who want to communicate,” and they’re going for more of a lifestyle target than with any particular age demographic. You can see some recent commercial clips (featuring the ultra-suave soccer superstar Hidetoshi Nakata) here.
How does dual mode technology figure into your 3G plans?
“We’ve been saying we’ll do global roaming with our 3G commercial service and this will be achieved in two ways specifically,” says Matthew. One way is with so-called “plastic roaming” which is achieved by transferring a UIM/SIM card from a J-Phone W-CDMA handset to a GSM handset, thus transferring the subscriber’s J-Phone account info to a handset that would then work in a GSM market. The other way is with dualmode technology handsets that will work under both W-CDMA and GSM network systems. He also adds that, at the time of their 3G commercial launch, J-Phone will have global roaming agreements in 50 countries.
Matthew also says they have no plans for dualmode PDC/W-CDMA, which differs from what president Green said last November (read the Nikkei report). Why the change? We can only guess that the cost and technical problems involved in creating a dualmode PDC/W-CDMA handset for such a small audience was deemed prohibitive.
(For more on J-Phone/Vodafone W-CDMA/GSM roaming, access this report on Wireless Week.)
You’re now releasing key performance indicators in English. Will we see more PR/marketing done in English?
“Yes,” says Matthew — due to a push from Vodafone.
What about new technologies like WLAN? Is there a firm business case to be made for deploying these in Japan?
Matthew says the company has no firm plans for WLAN, and that no trial has been “publicly” announced. Hmmm… WWJ wonders who’s been working behind the scenes with JR and other railways for their WLAN trials? Doesn’t JR own a whole whack of Japan Telecom shares? And isn’t Japan Telecom the parent of J-Phone…?
Will J-Phone W-CDMA be compatible with DoCoMo W-CDMA?
In a word, “no.” J-Phone will make sure that the W-CDMA handsets used here can be used in Europe. Roaming is a “big part” of our plans, says Matthew.
What terminal features will we see in 2002/03? Will all future terminals feature cameras?
“On 2G, cameras on handsets will now be the default.” Matthew points out that all handsets released since November 1 have featured cameras.
Why does J-Phone not suffer from wan-giri and mail spam as much as DoCoMo?
“We are also a wan-giri and meiwaku (spam) mail victim,” says Matthew. He says they’re working on it, and that you can already refuse unsolicited mail based on header key words. (Note to all spammer: Remember to put “unsolicited advertisement” in the subject line, please…) Actually, J-Phone, like the other Japanese carriers, are really in a bind; it’s tough to develop technical fixes for spam and meiwaku calls. Why do some always have to make life grim for others?
What additional video technologies will you deploy on 2G? Can Movie Sha Mail be made into a videoconference system?
Matthew says Movie Sha Mail pushes the present 2G network “to the max,” so we’re unlikely to see any further developments until 3G comes along.
DoCoMo have established the infogate portal for PDA/non-cell phone devices. Will J-Phone do similar?
How is the market share battle going?
Matthew explains that the carrier is shifting towards generating more value from existing customers, rather than trying to win new converts every month (although that, obviously, remains important). “A few years ago, we wanted more subscribers [each month]” he says. “But now we are getting closer to market saturation, so good services are important.”
– Daniel Scuka