WWJ was busy shooting video at Makahari Messe in Chiba last week, think telematics, wristphones and international FOMA videoconferencing. But enough teasing: The news we didn’t see elsewhere about the show was that DoCoMo, is – finally – taking telematics seriously, as we found in a quick interview with Hidenori Obara of DoCoMo’s ITS Business Promotion Office. Obara admitted that DoCoMo is “behind” KDDI, with the latter pushing all sorts of mobile-WLAN technologies to potentially hook into a slab of Japan’s 12.3 million in-auto car navigation (car nabi) systems. In a separate development, we heard that Seiko is adding a color screen, but not a camera function, on its Wristomo PHS phone. Unsurprisingly, they are not planning to mount a CCD chip because it’ll make the wearers’ wrist limp from the extra weight, and the extra battery power needed might be another issue. Tune in next week and see it all for yourself when we show FOMA’s first international video call, chat with DoCoMo’s Mariko Hanaoka, and get a peek at Panasonic’s next killer app. for camera phones everywhere!!
DoCoMo’s main stage presentation was for its grandly-named World Call service, which is basically M-Stage on FOMA at 72 yen per 10 seconds (about $3.70 a minute) and, courtesy of circuit switching, at 64k, to Hutchison 3G UK’s 155,000 and not growing- as it would seem so far- community. Earlier this September (see Video program), DoCoMo president Kenji Tachikawa announced 30 percent price reductions for FOMA video phones to encourage use, so these prices will no doubt drop.
M-Stage in action was impressive, with DoCoMo people in Hiroshima, Sapporo, Piccadilly Circus (London) and Tokyo chatting to each other. Time delay is noticeable; we figured it was approaching a second as the packets shunted themselves through the FOMA net, onto circuit switching and off into Hutchinson land. But we could pick out who was saying what. The premium over voice is high (voice is 40 yen/ 10s) so we don’t believe for a moment that Mariko is going to call her friends Keiko, Masami and Kenji and show them the Changing of the Guard outside Buckingham Palace, unless Mum is paying. Even Japanese tourists aren’t that rich. But for business, the bottom line is that with a little patience factored in, mobile-to-mobile real-time video conferencing is doable. World Call also of course can send data LAN to LAN at the same price.
So FOMA is finally up and running. In Japan the service now, officially at least, covers 96 percent of the Japanese population with DoCoMo increasing its base stations from 2,500 to 2,800 in the Kanto-Koshinetsu region and from 7,000 base stations to 8,400 base stations nationwide. In-building communications are being expanded as well right now to 300 buildings.
In fact, coming up, we have a video program from the heart of FOMA’s network center in Yoyogi showing the latest NEC – Panasonic – Fujitsu – Hitachi micro-base station hardware as DoCoMo attempts to cover the “final three percent” to make sure M-Stage works as well in the elevator as it does on the street.
But it’s a pity that FOMA also has 97 percent to go in terms of the rest of the world, making Japanese carriers’ latest media ploy- to emphasise 3G’s international reach, have a bit of a hollow ring to them (pun intended).
Meanwhile, KDDI’s CDMA 1x subscribers have just topped 10 million in the 18 months since launch, or about 15 times the number of FOMA users. This week, KDDI announced the latest expansion of its Global Passport roaming service to Taiwan, so that the service now covers 12 countries and nine operators, (SK Telekom, Hutchison Telecom,, Verizon Wireless, , Guam Cell, Telstra, Telus Mobility, Telecom Mobile, China Unicom and CAT). And of course, let’s not forget Vodafone’s move on October 1 as well.
FOMA is all dressed up and ready to roam. Too bad the partners haven’t turned up to the dance yet. Hutchison, which is majority controlled by Hong Kong’s Hutchison Whampoa Ltd. (with DoCoMo a 20 percent stakeholder) is having its own problems growing subscribers, an issue that DoCoMo declined to touch on. Hutchison just reported half-year losses of $500 million. You’ll see Hutchison CEO Bob Fuller put his own spin on the World Call deal. He looked thankful, and that’s all we’ll say on that.
The important thing for us was that while KDDI, Vodafone and DoCoMo come up with media finger food to demonstrate international connectivity with their nascent 3G services, here, with World Call, is the real thing in operation. Service expansion will proceed along the Hutchinson route to Austria, Sweden, Australia, Italy and, according to Takashi Tokita, DoCoMo’s director of International Roaming and Dialing Services, talks are underway with Hutchison Whampoa move the service to, surprise, Hong Kong, widening the potential chunk of users to about 550,000 outside Japan right now.
Is DoCoMo going to come to a FOMA-V-Live gentlemen’s agreement for interconnectivity? You bet. Are they talking? We guess they are. In the FOMA vs. Global Passport play, a rising stream of packet data will raise all boats.
— Paul Kallender