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Smart phones fire up Japan mobile market

Posted: 27 Aug 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Japan mobile market? 3G? smart phone? W-CDMA?

Qualcomm's Takayuki Nozaki

Nozaki: Continued advancement of handsets, software platforms and 3G services paved the way for Japan's mobile market to evolve to the next level.

It was December 1979 when NTT Docomo launched the world's first mobile telephone service in Tokyo enabling the people of Japan to obtain voice communication while on the move before any other countries in the world. Nearly 30 years on, and with the convergence of the mobile phone and the Internet enabled by 3G CDMA technology, Japan has become one of the most advanced mobile data service markets in the world. The focus for Japan's mobile industry in 2009 has turned to the increasingly popular smart phone segment, which is experiencing a meteoric rise in take-up and will continue to drive and grow the wireless industry.

Momentous year
While this is shaping up as a watershed year for the development of smart phones in Japan, 2009 also marks two other important milestones for Japan's mobile sector. The first is the 10-year anniversary of the i-mode launch by NTT, which was the first time a mobile operator released a mobile Internet service. Today, more than 48 million out of 54 million NTT subscribers are enjoying the i-mode service, accounting for about 90 percent of the company's subscriber base. The key success factor for i-mode was that NTT took a central coordination role in the collaboration of handset manufacturers, content providers and other platforms to ensure that wireless technology, content quality and user experience will synchronize and work together. With this business model, i-mode triggered the exponential growth of the mobile Internet business conducted by NTT and other operators in Japan in a very short period of time.

The other key milestone for Japan this year was reached in April when the total number of 3G CDMA subscribers surpassed the 100 million mark since the launch of the first W-CDMA commercial service by NTT in October 2001. More than 80 percent of the population in Japan is now on 3G networks enjoying high-speed and compelling mobile Internet services.

The driving force behind the rapid development of Japan's mobile data service market has been a combination of clever operator business models, as exemplified by i-mode, and the availability of robust 3G CDMA technologies, which have enabled truly high-speed data communications. But it is the emergence of Internet companies such as Google and Microsoft moving into mobile space, and in turn the rise of the smart phone, that is unlocking unprecedented potential for the Japanese and global mobile markets.

Mobile phones in Japan have already been 'smart' with various advanced capabilities in most of the latest handsets.

Smart phone take-off
Surprisingly, smart phones have made a relatively late entrance into the Japanese market as compared with their counterparts in the United States and Europe. It is only recently that operators in Japan are launching smart phones with advanced capabilities that can deliver a myriad of functions. However, mobile phones in Japan have already been 'smart' with various advanced capabilities in most of the latest handsets. And with the wide deployment of 3G CDMA networks and more seamless connectivity available across Japan, citizens are now witnessing a remarkable uptake of smart phones in a short period of time.

Meanwhile, OEMs have been quick to respond to the sharp increase in demand for smart phones in Japan and they have launched a slew of devices into the market this year. It is expected that the iPhone 3GS launched in early July 2009, coupled with its enhanced camera and video capability, will also quickly move up the list of popular smart phones in Japan.

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