Vodafone KK: J-Phone Not Lost in Translation?
Vodafone KK: J-Phone Not Lost in Translation?

Vodafone KK: J-Phone Not Lost in Translation?

Vodafone KK: J-Phone Not Lost in Translation?

Those watching this week’s video program will get to see what a howler Bow-Lingual is on Vodafone’s new V610SH handset from Sharp. We are just itching to find out if the same inventive and creative genius that seemed to permeate the old J-Phone can re-establish itself in 2004 at Vodafone KK. A recent study shows that, as we suspected, the Japanese public is going gangbusters for TV mobile phones. Having developed Japan’s first TV celly, the former J-Phone Corps have proven, yet again, they were ahead of the curve in understanding what customers want. But it is also apparent that Vodafone KK will need more than highly entertaining doggy gimmicks if it is to stop losing market share to KDDI and DoCoMo’s 3G services.

Vodafone KK is fully aware that it needs to have more and better phone models coming out soon; Sharp’s ultracool V801SH 3G model (due out in April) looks to be only a partial answer. Granted, our interview with Panasonic last week confirms that the maker is also gearing up to supply new 3G/GSM phones for Vodafone. But will this be too little and, as they won’t be out until around September, too late? (They’ll hit the market about the same time as DoCoMo’s next-gen FOMA family – possibly designated 900iS.) With DoCoMo in particular raising the bar with their recently announced 900i FOMA series, Vodafone’s next task is to make sure that its 3G handsets are competitive in terms of bulk and battery longevity.

Straight away, it’s apparent that the V801SH is nearly there. It’s compatible with Vodafone’s new 100-KB Java download service, has a megapixel camera, and isn’t too heavy (at 126 grams), but it suffers from being a prior-generation 3G phone in terms of continuous talk time (120 minutes) and standby time (220 hours) – which are less (perhaps significantly so) than DoCoMo’s latest 900i models.

On the other hand, it’s a W-CDMA + Triband-GSM handset allowing customers to plug directly into 29 different networks and roam in up to 84 countries.

But Vodafone are staying quiet on whether they intend to add the TV tuner function to more second- or third-generation phones. In terms of engineering, it would seem a bit of a push to add a battery-draining tuner to 3G models which are already notorious for sucking up the precious electrical juice. Officially, Vodafone is working with NEC and possibly other makers to see if they can mitigate this.

Meanwhile, it seems that the TV tuner on the (2G) NEC V601N is a real winner. According to a recent Nepro Japan survey reported on the NEAsia Online site (run by the Nikkei), the function most lusted after by Japanese mobile users is watching TV on their keitai, with over 40 percent of survey participants stating this was “desirable for future mobile phones.” Thus there appears to be a really valuable window of opportunity for Vodafone with consumers if the next series of 3G phones can have TV tuner capability.

But for us, the more strategically interesting data in the Nepro survey was the demand for flat-packet rates. It seems, as we thought, that KDDI has really set the cat among the pigeons here because – together with form factor/looks, weight, and talk time – flat rate data is a winner with consumers. In fact, 63 percent of the survey’s respondents said they wanted flat rate data. Of course, Wireless Watchers will know that KDDI in fact pulled a bit of a fast one – setting their flat rate at about $40 thus imposing a de facto $10 overhead charge on subscribers who, otherwise, were incurring about $30 per month in packet charges. But how many subscribers check their bills so closely? The idea that you can get almost unlimited downloads seems to have embedded itself in consumer minds, which no doubt sounds more like the clanging of a revenue-stream-killing warning bell than a pleasant “Chaka-Uta” in the ears of pay-per-packet Vodafone and DoCoMo managers.

Of course, number portability is also just as popular, with just under two-thirds of Japanese consumers showing their resistance to brand loyalty and baskets full of schemes and billions of yen of marketing and advertising blitzes designed to secure their loyalty.

It’s strange. Last December, DoCoMo President Keiji Tachikawa was incredibly down on both flat fees and number portability. He even suggested that DoCoMo marketing data hinted that these were not important for the consumer. Nice to see he’s in touch with the consumer.

— Paul Kallender