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This week marked a major milestone for WWJ! In one form or another, I’ve been writing this email newsletter for five years — and what a five year term it’s been!
I spent a couple hours last night looking over past WWJ newsletters, and was struck by how much Japan’s mobile scene has changed. In 2001, when I started writing a weekly mobile-focused newsletter for J@pan Inc, i-mode had just celebrated its second birthday, KDDI had yet to roll out CDMA 1X services and the No. 3 competitor in the market was known as “J-Phone.”
Today, DoCoMo is far in the lead with their 3G FOMA service and music and TV are the new hot trends; i-mode itself has become almost dasai (uncool). KDDI have created one of the mightiest and most unified mobile platforms on Earth, with GPS-based blogging, shopping and PC Internet integration drawing huge usage. The company formerly known as J-Phone is about to become the company formerly known as Vodafone as Masayoshi Son attacks 3G mobile with the same successful discount focus with which he attacked NTT and home broadband.
Here are a few more ‘those were the days’ tidbits via the WWJ Newsletter
In March 2001, DoCoMo had 36.2 mn 2G subscribers (no 3G) of which 21.7 mn (59.9%) had i-mode-capable phones. Last month, Big D reported 28.6 mn 2G users (falling rapidly) and 22 mn 3G users (rising sharply), with a total of 45.9 mn i-mode users (90.7%). In five years, they’ve not only launched 3G but already converted almost half the user base. If Vodafone weren’t so busy pulling out of the market, I bet they’d be red with envy.
In March 2001, 2G i-mode still offered 9.6 kbps data (the upgrade to 28.8 kbps came in spring 2002). They had just launched i-Appli Java content services providing a maximum 10 KB (later, 30 KB) application download — and some developers weren’t happy about the way the boys at Sanno Park channeled the necessary development specifications to favoured content partners first. Now, on 3G FOMA, Java apps are 100 KB, Flash downloads are set, I seem to recall, at about 100 KB and the network routinely provides pretty close to the advertised 384 kbps downloads.
On 5 March 2001, DoCoMo said there were about 1,480 official i-mode sites including 59 i-appli-compatible sites along with another 40,053 independent sites; Today, there are 5,937 official sites serving FOMA users and 5,020 serving 2G (“Mova”) users. There are tens of thousands of unofficial sites serving both.
On 23 March 2001 (same date as the first WWJ newsletter!), J-Phone announced 3D character content to be offered by Bandai using HI Corp.’s rendering engine; the company made lots more noise about 3D content that year, but usage never caught on. 3D content has since been over taken by Vodafone’s super-size Java apps (250 KB) and Flash-based animations. In April 2001, J-Phone had 10 mn 2G users; last month, Vodafone had 12.4 mn 2G users and 2.7 mn 3G users.
J-Phone and KDDI also launched Java services in mid-2001, both set at 30 KB downloads to compete with DoCoMo’s paltry 10 KB.
By the summer of 2001, the rebranding of J-Phone to Vodafone was well underway with a multi-billion yen marketing campaign. Today, I suspect Softbank is now planning a multi-billion yen campaign to rebrand Vodafone to BB Mobile (or something similar).
In May 2001, KDDI announced the first Bluetooth handset in Japan, Casio’s C413S. Bluetooth has never really caught on in Japan — for mobile or any other usage.
In October, DoCoMo opened their FOMA 3G service; the handsets were awful.
In November 2001, KDDI released the first EZnavi GPS handsets and the first EZmovie streaming content-capable models.
Throughout 2001, all three carriers announced numerous anti-spam mail measures. In the past 12 months, all three carriers have announced numerous anti-spam mail measures. WWJ bravely predicts that in the rest of 2006 and into 2007, all three carriers will continue announcing numerous anti-spam mail measures.
Finally, the other players — Tu-Ka (2G PDC), DDI Pocket (PHS) and a couple other minor PHS operators — mucked about on the fringes, offering super-cheap monochrome handsets and copy-cat data services. Today, most of these brands are gone. Willcom (a JV between Kyocera and a US equity firm) has taken over the PHS system and is doing rather well, while Tu-Ka has been absorbed into KDDI who is actively converting the user base to CDMA. DoCoMo also runs a PHS system, but has stopped accepting new subscribers.
Where will WWJ go in 2006?
Well, basically, we’ll cover wherever the market goes, and that includes some incredible transformations about to or already taking place.
As we enter our sixth year, look for:
It’s been a helluva ride since March 2001 and, if anything, the future is shaping up for five more years of mobile mayhem in Japan. Please accept our sincere thanks for your passionate and thoughtful patronage over the years of the WWJ site, the WWJ newsletter and — more recently — the Mobile Monday networking community.
Let’s see how things look in March 2011!
Some sage advise when entering new turf; Stop, Look and Listen.. it’s also good to secure a local guide. Japan is the cradle of mobile civilization – we been been dedicated to this space since 2001 – trust our archives here offer some useful material.
Domestic activities continue to set the pace, and sharp players are looking at global markets. We have hard-earned industry expertise and trusted network of contacts with access to advanced intell. and potential deal flow. Need a lift.. Ok, buckle-up!