Intercarrier TV Calls and Other J-Phone 3G Musings
The level of roaming in particular is a new feature for the market, and they face a sales challenge in figuring out how to sell this to a high-end business crowd – radically unlike J-Phone’s traditional youth target. But I think that today, almost 4 years after the invention of i-mode, provision of wireless Internet is an absolute requirement for success in the Japan market, and the absence of J-Sky access – both Web and mail – with some ill-defined “later in 2003” target is a major weakness.
After a somewhat extended holiday break, Wireless Watch Japan is back! Happy New Year to everyone, and all of us here at WWJ (OK – both of us here at WWJ) are looking forward to another great year of mobile Internet craziness in Japan.
Now on to today’s Viewpoint…
I swapped some mail with Matthew Nicholson from J-Phone PR just before the holidays, and he provided some good information on Java, 3G handset specs, and the carrier’s 3G roll-out.
I had mentioned in a story distributed via JCNN that it was “rare” for J-Phone to disclose Java figures – specifically, subscribers. NTT DoCoMo, for example, post their numbers on their English site, but I hadn’t seen similar postings on J-Phone’s (or on KDDI’s for that matter).
Matthew wrote to say, however, that the company has been releasing the data via their monthly fact sheet, and added that distribution, so far, hasn’t included journalists. “None of the journalists, except you, seems to care about Java for some reason!” He has since kindly included me in their distribution list, and I hope to provide regular updates via this newsletter.
I also mentioned in December that one WWJ subscriber, Mark Singer, had written to point out that the specs listed on Nokia’s site for what appears to be the same handset as the Nokia model that J-Phone is using for 3G in Japan (the 6650) includes Bluetooth support, while J-Phone’s version does not.
Nicholson confirmed what Singer suspected – Bluetooth is indeed missing from J-Phone’s model. “Bluetooth was not included because approval from the Bluetooth SIG was not received in time for release; thus a decision was made to go ahead without it,” he wrote.
While this seems to be a valid legal and licensing excuse, I think it would have been a nice boost to J-Phone 3G to offer Bluetooth – particularly since none of the handsets can access the J-Sky wireless Web or send Internet email. You can get Bluetooth, for example, on KDDI’s Sony C413 – a 2G cdmaOne 64-kbps model – while DoCoMo offer a couple of PHS Bluetooth models.
This lack of wireless Web access seems most glaring, and last Friday I asked him why. Nicholson pointed to J-Phone’s 3G marketing target as a significant reason: “For now the main thrust is corporate customers and travellers, [which] we realize [is] not a mass-market proposition,” he said over coffee at the Starbucks in the lobby of the J-Phone HQ building in Kamiyacho.
He explained that the carrier wanted to focus on international roaming, and that J-Phone’s chief service development officer, Kyoichiro Kouri, wanted to make sure that the network was stable. “It’s not a full-blown marketing campaign now. For Japanese customers, this [roaming] is a very new proposition,” he added. The TCA reported earlier this month that J-Phone had sold 1,200 3G subscriptions as of December 31, 2002 – this number includes sales of handsets that can be used here and of the Motorola V66 – a tri-band GSM handset that is sold by J-Phone for use outside Japan.
There are other interesting points regarding the handsets and marketing. The Nokia 6650, for example, is not being sold bearing a red Vodafone name; it’s branded as “Nokia” – not as “Vodafone Global Standard” (although when boxed together with a J-Phone USIM, it is formally sold as the “Vodafone Global Standard V-NM701”).
Further, the “J-Phone” name is absent from all three 3G models. (Will “J-Phone” disappear in 2003? Watch this space.. .) Moreover, the handsets and the 3G service aren’t being flogged nationwide. He said that “Vodafone Global Standard” handsets are presently only available at selected outlets – but the carrier will gradually expand the sales network “over time.”
In response to December press reports stating that 3G W-CDMA handsets were in short supply at retail, Nicholson said, “Currently 3G handsets (the NEC model only) are available at a total of 45 J-Phone Shops (directly owned shops and some franchises). Depending on the timing, some have stock and some don’t, but we have basically solved the problem of being completely sold out.” He confirmed that the Nokia and Sanyo models are still “not quite ready” but couldn’t give a firm date when they’d be in the shops. The Motorola V66 is selling for 4,800 yen online, while the NEC V-N701 is being sold at an open price.
J-Phone are also pleased that their W-CDMA-based videoconferencing feature is interoperable with NTT DoCoMo’s FOMA videophones (J-P W-CDMA is also 3GPP-compliant, as the marketing materials proudly point out). With FOMA interoperability, there are automatically several tens of thousands of other videophone owners with whom new J-P subscribers can make “TV calls” (a benefit not enjoyed by DoCoMo 3G subscribers at the dawn of FOMA). Another strength may be roaming, which appears to offer significant price and coverage advantages over the market’s only other competitor – KDDI. J-Phone offers roaming in some 63-odd countries for a 540 yen monthly fee and it costs 140 yen/minute to call back to Japan from the US. KDDI offers service in 7 countries and has no monthly fee, but would charge 330 yen/minute for the same call. Maybe this will get J-Phone’s biz market fired up?
All in all, I give J-Phone’s 3G effort so far a mixed rating. Some elements – GSM-like roaming and 3GPP standards adherence – are strong. This level of roaming in particular is a new feature for the market, and they face a sales challenge in figuring out how to sell this to a high-end business crowd – radically unlike J-Phone’s traditional youth target. And they’re obviously still facing issues with handset availability as well as, arguably, onboard feature sets. Given time, and a lot of late nights at the Atago Green Hills building, I suspect initial issues will be worked out.
But I think that today, almost 4 years after the invention of i-mode, provision of wireless Internet is an absolute requirement for success in the Japan market, and the absence of J-Sky access – both Web and mail – with some ill-defined “later in 2003” target (as mentioned at the 3G launch press conference) is a major weakness.
Until this gets sorted out, J-Phone 3G is, I believe, destined to remain attractive to TV phone fans who don’t like FOMA and a niche business-and-traveller market. Ironically, these appear to be all the users that J-Phone wants right now. It had better be; until the service provides wireless Internet, these are all they’re likely to get.
— Daniel Scuka