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Tuesday, 23 May, 2000, 13:35 GMT 14:35 UK
Japan's web phone revolution
The new Nokia WAP mobile telephone with stylus
Versatility is the watchword of the WAP phone
The mobile phone is set to overtake the computer as the most popular way to access the internet in Japan.

New figures from Japan's mobile phone operators show the number of phones with internet access could top 10 million by the end of May.

About 18% of mobile phones users in Japan would have web-compatible phones, the figures showed.

NTT DoCoMo - the mobile phone arm of telecoms giant NTT - said subscriptions for its internet service, known as "i-mode", were rising by 20,000 a day.
Web phone subscribtions
NTT DoCoMo: 6.92 million
Nippon Ido Tsushin: 2 million
J-phone: 1.04 million

Japan's other big mobile phone companies also report massive subscriber increases

The web access phones allow subscribers to access e-mail, do online banking and click on to more than 7,000 Internet sites.

It took NTT DoCoMo just six months to reach one million net access subscribers and it now has seven million customers with the phones.

The company says I-mode has beaten traditional Japanese internet service providers to become the country's biggest internet access platform.

Last month, the company was forced to temporarily suspend new sales because of capacity problems.

Other mobile phone companies have also reported strong sales of phones with internet access since the technology was introduced last year.

Convenience

Mariko Fujiwara, director of the Hakuhoda Institute of Life and Living in Japan, said mobile phones with web access offer consumers greater convenience.
Ananova, virtual newsreader, on a mobile
Ananova: Virtual newsreader on a mobile

"In Japan and in big cities, where people commute more than an hour on average, this will enable people to double their time. It saves them time to do other things they want to do," she said.

Mobile phones are extremely popular in Japan.

At the end of March, there were 56.8 million subscribers to mobile phone users, compared to the 55.4 million subscribers to phones on fixed analogue lines.

Mobile phone penetration is also rapidly growing elsewhere in the region, and has already reached 60% in Hong Kong.

WAP in Asia

The technology used to provide mobile phones with internet access, which includes Wireless Application Protocol (WAP), was only introduced to Asian markets last year.

In some Asian countries, it has been slow to take hold.

Few WAP-enabled handsets are currently available and the technology needs further refinement.

However these teething problems are likely to disappear soon.

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