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Monday, 1 October, 2001, 03:14 GMT 04:14 UK
First 3G mobiles launched in Japan
NTT DoCoMo president Keiji Tachikawa unveils 3G handset AFP
DoCoMo president Keiji Tachikawa shows a 3G handset
Japan's leading mobile telecoms operator, NTT DoCoMo, has launched the world's first third generation (3G) mobile phone service.

Users of this revolutionary phone will be able to surf the internet and see pictures of the people they are talking to, and eventually they will be able to watch movies and listen to music on their handsets.

NTT DoCoMo hopes to conquer the markets in Europe and America, and snap up six million domestic subscribers by March 2004.

The service, named "freedom of mobile multi-media access", or Foma, will initially be limited to a 30-kilometre (20-mile) radius around the centre of Tokyo.

Expanding market

NTT says it plans to introduce the service to the Osaka, Kyoto and Nagoya areas by December, and to the rest of Japan by spring 2002.

3G is going to be a long race, not a sprint

Serge Tchuruk, chief executive of Alcatel
But the company is not limiting its ambitions to the domestic market.

"In Europe, we hope to start third generation service by the end of this year or early next year," said NTT DoCoMo spokeswoman Junko Miyazaki.

"In the United States, we have been working to make the service available. But we have not set any date for the US launch."

Mainly for professionals

An analyst at JP Morgan, Hironobu Sawake, said that the new service was likely to appeal mainly to professionals at first because of the high prices.

The NEC handset costs about 66,500 yen (375; $560), with the Panasonic version, which can also be used as a video camera, retailing for 95,700 yen (540; $800).

"The benefit of being first is very important for know-how," he said, estimating that Japan Telecom's mobile branch, J-Phone, with the assistance of the UK's Vodafone, would enter the market next.

But the industry is also very cautious, as mobile internet services have been slow to get off the ground.

Europe's Wap phones, which offer slower internet access, have not been a huge hit.

Even in Japan, DoCoMo's mobile internet service i-mode - an advanced mobile data service offering e-mail, games and web browsing - generates only 10% of DoCoMo sales.

Long race

"3G... will not be the panacea that some had expected," said Jonathan Bell, an analyst at US-based consultants Pyramid.

It will take a whole decade for mobile data revenues to overtake traditional voice revenues."

Serge Tchuruk, chief executive of French telecom equipment maker Alcatel, told investors at a conference in Barcelona that "3G is going to be a long race, not a sprint".

NTT DoCoMo is also cautious, expecting only one in every 10 subscribers to have a 3G phone in three years' time.

The BBC's Juliet Hindell in Tokyo
"The launch is looking like a second trial run"
Bjon Krylander, UbiNetics
"It will take time for these services to become exactly right"

Key stories

Consumer choice?



See also:

03 Sep 01 | Business
NTT DoCoMo unveils 3G package
24 Aug 01 | Business
NTT DoCoMo in European tie-up
27 Jul 00 | Business
AOL, NTT DoCoMo 'in talks'
09 May 00 | Business
NTT, KPN in mobile deal
11 Oct 00 | Business
Japan's m-commerce boom
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