I-mode, which makes use of packet data transmission technology, allows mobile users to access a wide range of HTML-based content, and also offers services such as airline reservation and banking. The number of i-mode subscribers has exceeded 22 million since the service was introduced in February 1999.
Keiji Tachikawa, CEO of NTT DoCoMo, feels that i-mode has a definite edge over WAP (Wireless Application Protocol), a competing method of wireless content delivery. WAP uses a language called HDML (Handheld Device Markup Language), which means that Web site operators have to redo their content to make it accessible for WAP mobile users.
A Chinese language version of I-mode is in the pipeline. DoCoMo is working with Taiwan's KG Telecom to create a wireless network that can deliver broadband mobile services to the Chinese community.
DoCoMo is in the midst of developing IMT-2000 - a globally standardized radio interface and a third-generation (3G) mobile communications system. IMT-2000 promises to deliver services originally associated purely with fixed line communications. These include mobile multimedia services that allow data and images to be transmitted at speeds up to 2 Mbps, as well as existing voice-centered services. DoCoMo is an ardent advocate of W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) technology, and plans to be the first to commercially roll out a W-CDMA network in Tokyo sometime this year. This standard aims to bridge the gap between the host of available mobile standards such as GSM and i-mode in different countries.
DoCoMo has invested huge sums of money (some 1.8 trillion yen in fact) into foreign phone carriers such as Hong Kong's Hutchison Telephone Co. and AT&T Wireless Group Inc. to enhance its 3G commitments.
Last October, DoCoMo was involved in the launch of the Joint Initiative for Mobile Multimedia [JIMM], a 3G forum made up of mobile operators such as Vodafone, British Telecom, France Telecom, AT&T Wireless, DoCoMo, SK Telecom and Singapore Telecom.
DoCoMo has begun distribution of 4,500 mobile phones equipped for 3G services to participating companies. The breakdown includes 1,400 standard phones, an upgraded version of the i-mode cellular phone, 1,200 "visual" phones equipped with a video screen, and 1,900 "data-card" phones for dedicated mobile high-speed data transmission.
Preparing for 4G
Tachikawa believes that a new standard for mobile communications emerges naturally about every 10 years, and this will last for about two decades. His company is using a broad microwave frequency band to develop fourth-generation mobile technology for high-speed transmission from 2 to 156 Mbps for connection to B-ISDN (Broadband Integrated Services Digital Network). Introduced in 1988, B-ISDN is a framework for advanced telecommunications designed for the integration of digital transmission services in a broadband network.
NTT DoCoMo is also investing in digital technologies such as sound and image signal processing technology, research into electromagnetic compatibility (EMC), and high-temperature superconductor and ultra-low noise technology. The company hopes to make advanced mobile multimedia a reality, where users can indulge in services such as mobile card cashing.
More about Top 20 Telecoms' Outlook.