FT : NTT DoCoMo Bets Big On LTE (a.k.a. 4G)
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
Japan’s NTT DoCoMo will launch its next-generation 4G mobile phone network in 2010 even if rivals around the world wait, its president has told the Financial Times. Ryuji Yamada’s resolve means DoCoMo will be one of the world’s first companies to deploy on a large scale the Long-Term Evolution (LTE) standard, which will boost download speeds for mobiles and open the way for Japanese phones to become compatible with the rest of the world for the first time. Mr Yamada, head of Japan’s largest mobile phone company, said that, because of an agreement last December on the LTE standard, DoCoMo was confident its technology would be compatible. After DoCoMo launched a 3G network in 2001, it saw the rest of the world delay launches and adopt a slightly different system. “We went first and when we looked behind us there was nobody there,” Mr Yamada said. This time “we don’t want to go first, we want to go in the leading group”, he said.
Mr Yamada said LTE was a central part of DoCoMo’s plans for growth in average revenue per user and profits in Japan, where almost everyone owns a mobile phone. “Through LTE, we want to be known as ‘Douga no DoCoMo’,” said Mr Yamada, a slogan that translates as “Movie DoCoMo”. On May 1, DoCoMo launched a service called BeeTV, which offers videos custom-made for the small screen of a mobile phone, and signed up 400,000 paying customers in the first seven weeks. “Those figures would be inconceivable in the normal broadcast market,” Mr Yamada said. DoCoMo hopes that, in addition to paying for content, movies will prompt customers to sign up for unlimited data packages, which it can deliver economically via LTE. Mr Yamada said DoCoMo had learned another lesson from its 3G launch, when its early handsets were clunky and only worked in big cities. “This time we want to introduce LTE as an overlay on top of 3G. From 2011 we plan to have handsets that can use either system,” he said. Separately, Mr Yamada defended DoCoMo’s overseas expansion strategy, and said he wanted to buy more minority stakes in mobile operators around Asia. Last November’s acquisition of a 26% stake in Tata Teleservices, India’s sixth-largest mobile operator, has faced criticism for being expensive without giving DoCoMo control. In 2002, DoCoMo had to make heavy write-offs on minority stakes in US and European mobile operators.