3G wireless services stable for launch: DoCoMo

By : |July 4, 2001 0



Reed Stevenson

TOKYO: NTT DoCoMo Inc. said on Tuesday the network for its high-speed third
generation (3G) wireless services was becoming more stable and it was on track
for a full commercial launch on October 1.

                                 

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Shiro Tsuda, DoCoMo’s executive vice president in charge of networks, said
that its four-month introductory 3G service is giving it a chance to iron out
software problems in its network and handsets. "The problems associated
with 3G are very complex but in no way do we think that they can’t be
solved," Tsuda said in a rare interview.

DoCoMo, Japan’s dominant mobile operator, had scaled back its May 30 launch
of the world’s first 3G service, which offers faster speeds for Net-browsing and
downloading video and music to mobile phones, to a trial service.

Focus on DoCoMo, whose name means "anywhere" in Japanese, is
intense because its peers overseas have invested heavily in 3G, paying tens of
billions of dollars for licences and will also have to build new infrastructure.
"We wanted more time. In fact, it’s now more than a month since the May 30
launch and we have seen the system become steadily more stable," said
Tsuda.

The 3G trial users – 2,000 individual and 2,500 corporate subscribers –
reported that the 3G phone’s battery ran out within a day, that it went out of
range even within the designated trial service area of Tokyo’s 23 wards and also
cut off calls abruptly.

Trial users do not pay for the handsets, which are made by NEC Corp and
Matsushita Communication Industrial Co Ltd., and are only charged for
transmission fees. From October, the phones are expected to cost around 100,000
yen ($806.4) each and users will pay basic fees, which could be more than the
average 8,000 yen that each user pays now for existing 2G services.

Main problems resolved
Tsuda, who was a key player in the decision to delay, said there were
several issues with switching and the wireless functions but DoCoMo had been
able to resolve the major problems in the last month. Tsuda identified two major
problems. One concerned the switching system that directs calling and data
connections, and the other had to do with "handovers" when cell phones
move from one base station area into another.

"One of the challenges of the October 1 launch is to ensure that the
switching system can deal with an increased traffic load. We need to make sure
it can deal with a higher traffic flow," he said. Capacity was being built
to handle anticipated subscriber numbers a year ahead, he said.

"The problem with handovers has mainly to do with the need to make
improvements in geographically difficult areas. This must be done on-site and we
must make finer adjustments." Such problems had mainly do with software, he
said, adding that the proportion of expertise needed for wireless technology was
shifting toward software on a yearly basis.

"Finding and solving problems related to software is becoming our
biggest issue. Especially for handsets." Apart from basic technologies such
as switching and handovers, DoCoMo has added to the complexity of its phones and
system because they will be able to access the Internet and download multimedia
content.

DoCoMo grabbed the attention of competitors, investors and Japan’s
gadget-conscious consumers in the last year and half by nabbing more than 25
million subscribers for its i-mode service, which allows Web browsing on credit
card-sized screens on mobile phones.

Number one
Despite the hurdles that DoCoMo says it is facing with 3G, Tsuda said the
wireless carrier is still at the forefront of technology. "Among carriers,
I believe we are at the top in terms of technology. But it’s only been a short
time since handsets have evolved in the way that we see now."

While vendors such as Nokia and Ericsson have made a name for themselves as
suppliers of wireless networks and handsets, DoCoMo shares in the credit for the
technology with its two main vendors NEC and Matsushita Communication Industrial
(MCI) because of their joint research development.

He said DoCoMo was planning to introduce "dual mode" phones that
could work on both 2G and 3G networks, but did not say when. For the October 3G
launch, Tsuda said it was likely DoCoMo will begin selling the three trial model
types, but added: "We are hoping that other domestic handset vendors will
join in."

Still, he said, DoCoMo had to "scale back some of the features we had
been hoping to put into the 3G phones". The standard model made by NEC,
which will be replaced for an upgrade later this month, will not be replaced
again before October, Tsuda said.

He added, that some of the data transmission terminals for PCs made by MCI
might be replaced for testing to see whether they can handle faster transmission
rates. DoCoMo shares, which closed at 2.38 per cent higher at 2.15 trillion yen
on Tuesday, have climbed 9.13 per cent higher since the beginning of the year
while the benchmark Nikkei 225 average is down 7.02 per cent.

(C) Reuters Limited 2001.

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