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NEC sees US fortunes linked to mobile operator

Japan's NEC Corp sees NTT DoCoMo's recent foray into the United States as a boon to its own technological fortunes.

Japan's NEC Corp - which supplies NTT DoCoMo with the infrastructure system that the mobile phone operator will use for its third-generation service starting next May - sees NTT DoCoMo's recent foray into the United States as a boon to its own technological fortunes.

JAPAN (SCMP.com) - Electronics and Internet equipment maker NEC also said NTT DoCoMo's entry into the US could also provide a boost for the push of wideband-code division multiple access (W-CDMA) as the standard for third-generation (3G) services.

NTT DoCoMo recently bought a 16 per cent stake in AT&T Wireless, and NEC sees its relationship with DoCoMo expanding in North America.

"NTT will definitely expand the i-mode high-speed data service in the US," said Tadashi Komatsu, general manager of NEC's mobile and wireless systems division.

"We will support NTT in whatever way we can and provide them with the infrastructure," he said.

In April last year, NEC won the coveted contract to supply NTT DoCoMo with W-CDMA equipment for its commercial mobile network. Under the agreement, NEC would provide the whole network system, including base transceiver stations, radio network controller, multimedia processing equipment and mobile handsets for the world's first 3G mobile network.

NEC has just completed the first shipment of that system. For supporters of W-CDMA, which is based on the Global System for Mobile Communication (GSM), NTT DoCoMo's stake in AT&T is seen as a big battle cry for the advancement of the mobile system.

Governments all over the world are still deciding which format - W-CDMA or CDMA2000, the next-generation of CDMA technology - to use for their 3G systems.

While GSM is currently used in Europe and throughout Asia, the US uses CDMA predominantly.

Although Japan's two largest mobile phone operators, NTT DoCoMo - and its US partner AT&T Wireless - and J-Phone, have said they would be using W-CDMA technology for their 3G services next year, there might be an tough battle to fight before Asia sees W-CDMA as the de facto mobile standard.

This is because China - soon to become the largest mobile phone market in the world - appears to be inclined towards CDMA2000, although it has largely been using GSM.

Political issues
On Monday, Qualcomm - the company behind the CDMA format - said it has signed a memorandum of understanding with China's Ministry of Information Industry (MII) that "laid down the foundation of long-term co-operation" between the company and mainland authorities over CDMA development in the country.

"Which system gets used in each country depends not only on technical issues, but also on political issues," said Mr Komatsu.

"No matter what, we are now committed to W-CDMA, because we think it's a more suitable technology for high-speed data services."

China is not totally giving up on W-CDMA. In July, NEC and China's Research Institute of Telecommunications Transmission - a part of the MII - said they would work together to test W-CDMA technology.

"We are closely watching the countries to see which system each adopts," said Yoshinori Yoshida, general manager of NEC's technologies and products planning division. "Of course, we hope that it's W-CDMA."

As China takes the step into 3G mobile communications, NEC's current trials with the MII for W-CDMA are an important foothold for the company's future involvement in the Chinese market.

NEC said it would be holding further discussions with parties in China concerning the possibilities of strategic alliances in this field. It also said it was aiming to offer total W-CDMA solutions by not only supplying systems and hardware products, but developing application services as well.

NEC has been actively involved in W-CDMA technical trials all over the world with leading carriers in the region, such as British Telecom, Telephone Organization of Thailand (TOT), SK Telecom (Korea), SingTel Mobile (Singapore) and Telecom Italia Mobile (TIM).

In Europe, NEC also has a US$1 billion joint venture with Siemens - a powerhouse in the continent - called Mobisphere, which develops products for GSM-based 3G systems.

"While we are fully committed to the GSM format, we are sincerely looking forward to the day when there is a common international standard," said Mr Yoshida. "We'll just wait and see."