3G Finally Dawneth in Japan
3G Finally Dawneth in Japan

3G Finally Dawneth in Japan

3G Finally Dawneth in Japan

The latest haul of subscriber figures from Japan’s Telecommunications Carriers Association told their usual tale of victory and triumph for most, and misery for some. Three guesses for who did what! Vodafone Japan added a paltry 64,100 subscribers to raise its subscriber base to 15.1 million. But in the hot-house-, typhoon-yielding-, and subscriber-base-wilting-month of June, DoCoMo and KDDI/au managed to pull in 166,000 and 157,000, respectively. Better still, FOMA’s 3G ascendancy seems secure and the pace of uptake is accelerating, while CDMA 1X continues to do rather well, thank you very much. Key message: if you ain’t got 3G in Japan, you’re nowhere (or Roppongi Hills).

We think former Vodafone boss Darryl Green (did he jump or was he pushed?) pulled a fast one last year when, just as he was about to be buried under an avalanche of questions all tilting on the query, “Why have J-Phone’s net monthly adds been so anemic since Vodafone took over?” pulled the V601N TV-keitai out of his hat and mesmerized the media.

The analog-only V601N is now looking increasingly like a distraction before the full launch of terrestrial digital broadcasting. It didn’t stop you, judging by the zillions of minutes of viewing time flooding out of the sometime redoubtable WWJ server, from being distracted too!

Dr. Brian Clark, Green’s temporary (maybe permanent?) replacement, of course, has a huge advantage nearly at hand — 3G terminals that really rock. We don’t have information on the grim set of missteps that must have mucked up last October’s launch, but the fact is Clark only has to wait, we guess, a maximum of 12 weeks before Vodafone launches its long-awaited fleet of W-CDMA phones.

But, of course, if new subs don’t pick up at the end of the year, there’ll be no more room for excuses.

3G or Nothing

It’s become crystal clear over the last eight weeks or so that the tide has turned. 572,000 FOMA terminals flew into handbags and hip pockets last month, and DoCoMo’s old 2G PDC network is going nowhere fast. It appears that those in the know, which is just about everyone in Japan in a major city under the age of 50, doesn’t give a fig about a second-generation 506i with turbo-charged, rinky-dink novelties; they want 3G FOMA with its bandwith and sophistication — and they want it fast!

Year-on-year comparisons only serve to underline how well the new-fangled FOMA lineup is doing. For example, KDDI/au’s 157,500 adds for June was actually down 19 percent year-on-year, signaling perhaps that the upgrade cycle to Qualcomm’s version of 3G is running out of steam. Against this, we would be remiss not to point out that 157,000 still represents 53 percent of all new subs.

DoCoMo was down 3 percent year-on-year (lets call it stable) but, of course, FOMA had the market acceptability of a soggy wet blanket this time last year. Again, this underscores the point that, increasingly, FOMA is everywhere and PDC nowhere.

What a difference a year makes. Vodafone has slipped from last to worst. Its 64,100 net gains is down a whopping 54 percent compared to last year. Still, there are signs that Vodafone has got the last planks of its network in place (rather than last nails in the coffin).

This week, the wounded carrier said that it will have “99.6%” national coverage on or about July 7, although how that’s worked out we’d rather not know. According to Vodafone, 3G will soon work even on the Tokyo subway, which is great (except they haven’t got a decent range of terminals to tempt customers with).

UPDATE: After reading this Viewpoint, Vodafone have thrown down the gauntlet, offering us a handset to check out what 99.6% really means, the next time we go into Japan’s “inaka” (countryside.) OK, we are up for that!

But then again, FOMA still has its own problems. I was on the 4th floor of DoCoMo’s gazillion-yen, marble-and-glass headquarters building a few weeks ago at the Nomura offices. My confederate, WWJ sometime-contributor Ken Gai, had a spiffy FOMA 900i handset whereas your humble correspondent had his 1-yen Sony-Ericsson au relic (I don’t even have a camera on my phone, which actually draws sympathy in some quarters). Who was out of range? Ken-san… not I! Imagine… a 900i in the heart of Tokyo approximately 100 feet directly below where DoCoMo holds its monthly press conferences…!!!!

— Paul Kallender-Umezu