NTT DoCoMo: The world is i-mode's oyster

Heard of the company Do Communication Over the Mobile Network Inc.? No?

Keiji Tachikawa Heard of the company Do Communication Over the Mobile Network Inc.? No? Well, you may recognize its acronym though. DoCoMo, originally part of Japanese telephone monopoly NTT, is a dominant player in the cellular phone market, and is the one that came up with the world's first Internet-connected cellular phone service - i-mode.

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.

Pioneering 3G
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.