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Monday, 3 September, 2001, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
NTT DoCoMo unveils 3G package
NTT DoCoMo president Keiji Tachikawa unveils 3G handset
NTT DoCoMo president Keiji Tachikawa unveils a 3G handset
NTT DoCoMo is set to win the race to launch the world's first fully-fledged third generation mobile service.

The Japanese telecoms giant has applied for government consent to launch its third-generation (3G) service - dubbed "FOMA" or Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access - on 1 October.

The news has eased fears that the launch would again fall victim to the delays which have hit the roll-out worldwide of 3G services, which enable features such as high-speed internet access or videoconferencing to be undertaken through a mobile phone.

FOMA's launch was originally set for May, but postponed while trials were undertaken.

Some experts nonetheless restated doubts over technology hitches associated with the service.

Roll out plans

DoCoMo, Japan's dominant mobile phone operator, said FOMA will initially serve areas with 30km of Tokyo city centre, with services for Kyoto, Osaka, Kobe and Nagoya following in December, and for other major cities next year.

The service will be based around two fee structures - one which charges users by air time, and the second by the amount of data transmitted.

For data-heavy users, those who use the phone more for surfing than speaking, customers will pay fees of up to 8,000 yen a month.

Surfing only customers will be billed a basic charge of 2,200 yen a month, with top-up fees dependent on levels of usage.

Three types of FOMA handset will initially go on sale.

Pricing worries

Some analysts have raised doubts over customers willingness to pay extra for FOMA, even though the service is 40 times quicker at transmitting data than the current surfing-enabled phone service, i-mode.

The 26 million I-mode customers pay a monthly fee of about 300 yen, plus top-up charges.

But DoCoMo on Monday restated forecasts of 150,000 3G users in the year to March, with 6 million by March 2004.

The firm is also spending 1,000bn yen over the next three years building 3G networks nationwide.

Technology concerns

Other analysts have questioned the service's technology platform, following complaints by some users in the FOMA trial the battery on their handsets ran out after 20-40 minutes of use.

"I have not yet heard a convincing argument from DoCoMo that they have solved all their problems." said BNP Paribas analyst Katsuo Hori.

If handset performance has not been boosted "there will probably be a lot of dissatisfied customers", he said.

While connection hitches appear to have been sorted out "there are still worries about the quality of the service", he added.

Hitches 'resolved'

In a statement announcing FOMA's launch, DoCoMo said it had used feedback from customers in the trial to "make necessary adjustments and improve system stability".

"Many technical problems in the 3G systems have been resolved," said Shiro Tsuda, DoCoMo's executive vice-president in charge of networks.

But news of the launch failed to support DoCoMo shares, which ended 5.48%lower at 1.38m yen.

The shares were hit by a downgrade from Morgan Stanley analysts, who cut the firm's rating from "outperform" to "neutral", claiming DoCoMo should now be considered a blue-chip rather than high-growth firm.


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See also:

24 Aug 01 | Business
NTT DoCoMo in European tie-up
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DoCoMo: Racing to 3G launch
11 Oct 00 | Business
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