Vodafone Japan have released their February subscriber numbers to the media and there is good news and bad. The loss of 2G subscribers continued unabated from January, but 3G users still grew nicely (although not as much as in the previous month). The company reports 2G users shrank by 201,200 from 14,625,000 in January to 14,423,800 as of 28 February; 3G users grew by 148,000 from 527,300 in January to 675,300. Optimists will conclude that 3G grew by 28.1 percent month-on-month far outpacing 2G’s losses (which only shrank by 1.4 percent). Pessimists will conclude that Big V is still in a whole lot of trouble.
Overall, the loss of subscribers wasn’t as bad as in January: 53,200 versus 58,700, indicating that the company seems to have reduced the downward subscriber trend. It would be great to see this reduced even further, or reversed altogether, in March.
Significantly, 3G users are still growing, although unfortunately not as strongly as in January. This could have been caused by the release of two rather cool 2G models, such that anyone walking into a shop would have opted for one of these rather than a 3G celly. Unfortunately, not enough new customers are walking into the shops in any event, and certainly there appear to be more 2G users cashing in their old Vodafone celly and skipping off to DoCoMo or KDDI instead of upgrading within the brand.
While the overall numbers are still grim, with 2G still trending down and 3G not growing very fast, a look at the past few quarters is instructive.
In fact, the subscriber trend over the past 15 months has remained more or less flat — not too bad considering the absolutely cut-throat competition proffered by KDDI and Big D (see large chart below).
Further, individual technology platforms — the Vodafone live! wireless Internet portal, the v-Appli Java service and even Sha-mail-compatible handsets — all show declines in the past 5 quarters, in concert with the overall steady decline in 2G subscribers. The single technology-based service that has increased over this period has been bar-code reading models. These have grown, as a percentage of 2G phones in use, from 22.4 percent in December 2003 to a significant 43.6 percent in February 2005. With third-party bar-code reading applications on the rise, and with many of these already being related to shopping, entertainment and other e-commerce sales activity, this may indicate that Vodafone users as a group are keen on e-commerce.
With Vodafone having recently announced the roll-out of the FeliCa micropayment platform for autumn 2005, the subscriber numbers may get an additional shot in the arm as this additional e-commerce technology appears in the shops. Furthermore, Vodafone can be expected to ride the coat tails of DoCoMo’s strong FeliCa marketing efforts.
All in all, we’ve seen better, but we’ve seen worse.
– WWJ Editors