DoCoMo Drops Consumers from WLAN/3G
DoCoMo Drops Consumers from WLAN/3G

DoCoMo Drops Consumers from WLAN/3G

DoCoMo Drops Consumers from WLAN/3G

NTT DoCoMo took the wraps off its NEC FOMA N900i combi WLAN phone, the N900iL, today and quickly did its best to shut down the possibilities of the terminal actually being any use outside of narrowly defined office environments. According to their press release “The handset, which is scheduled to be marketed in Fall 2004, has been specifically designed to support the new PASSAGE DUPLE™ system that was developed by DoCoMo to integrate the two-network operation. Under the PASSAGE DUPLE system, the N900iL may be used as a standard FOMA handset, as well as an in-house VoIP phone utilizing a company’s internal wireless LAN network. The dual-network solution targets corporate users, and will be marketed through DoCoMo’s corporate business division and partner companies. The system will not be available through DoCoMo shop locations.”

In fact, today’s press briefing seemed almost schizophrenic. Here was what was supposed to be a press conference introducing the breathless potential of DoCoMo’s long-annnouced, long-waited-for, world’s first WCDMA/WLAN (802.11b) phone basically reduced to an Intranet/corporate messaging function. What a waste!

Almost everything about the N900iL is engineered so that it can’t be used outside a tightly engineered corporate environment. And at what a price!

After admitting the handset was for corporate users, Hitoshi Yasuda, director of the Product Business Department, admitted that the company was looking to sell (the enormous) number of 100,000 units in the first year.

Wow. That’s not impressive.

That’s how many second-generation 505i handsets were selling in a few days back in the the halcyon days (Or perhaps the last hurrah? — Ed.) of Japan’s most sophisticated lineup of PDC keitai ever.

100,000 units represents a piddling drop in the ocean of DoCoMo’s business base, if we are to believe that corporate users make up 10 percent of DoCoMo’s 4.5 million FOMA users (a figure that could reach 10 million in a calendar year from now), if we are to believe DoCoMo. So why the incredibly low target?

Could it be the price — estimated to be ten times the price of the standard N900i (give or take the mysterious and hard-to-pin down subsidy DoCoMo pays best pal NEC for FOMA sets)? Four to five thousand bucks for a phone with a WLAN chip in it is an obvious rip off.

The N900iL has an even more unwieldy name; it’s been dubbed the ‘Passage Duple.’ Not exactly a sexy, compelling hot seller to-be, now, is it?

The benefits of owning a Passage Duple? Obviously, there are some.

These include HTML-based i-mode access (we’re not kidding — this was actually touted as a great plus) together with instant messaging, a browser for “high speed Internet,” and the advantage that your (second passage?) can be used as an in-house IP phone.

Japan wireless watchers will know Fujitsu and Net-2Com have a one or two cellular/IP phone handsets ready to go (stay tuned for our upcoming video program on this exciting development).

DoCoMo envisages the system working with a SIP/Recognition/Presence/Intranet server network with a lot of the electronics inside flogged by NEC. And of course, the whole thing is carefully configured not to work with public access WLAN hotspots at the moment.

We seem to be left with a hugely expensive, not-at-all mobile, phone that needs more than its own plug to work in a corporate intranet. With so much potential smothered at birth, it would seem to behoove any corporation that actually spent $100,000 on buying an armful of them never to use FOMA again!

By the way, DoCoMo was able to tell us that Passage Duplex will not be in the shops (remember, it’s not for the general public) this autumn. They didn’t state the month.

Check out our video coverage from the press conference.

—Paul Kallender-Umezu