DoCoMo is to increase its 3G network faster than first planned. This decision contrasts with many European operators which are holding back 3G investment following questions over its commercial viability. DoCoMo does not seem to share these concerns. The strategy could be risky if subscription rates remain sluggish, but it will increase its advantage over rivals.
Japan's leading mobile operator, NTT DoCoMo, has announced plans to accelerate its 3G coverage to 60% of Japan's population by the end of April. The news comes just six months after its delayed launch of the world's first commercial 3G service. Currently, the service is limited to users in the metropolitan area of Tokyo.
The service will be rolled-out into Japanese provinces on April 1. At the same time, DoCoMo is to unveil new handsets designed for its i-mode video content services. i-Mode was launched in the Q3 of 2000 and has become the world's first mass market wireless video service. However, subscriptions have been low due to skepticism and a lack of suitable handsets.
DoCoMo's decision to accelerate the rollout of its 3G services will come as a surprise to many. The company has seen a lukewarm take-up in the capital and the 3G service has received criticism, particularly regarding the handsets. But the acceleration proves that DoCoMo has confidence in its 3G infrastructure and in the handset technology. The company must also be convinced that there is a market for 3G services in Japan and that it is commercially viable.
There is a risk that 3G adoption will remain slow even with the increases in coverage and availability. If so, the move could still have benefits. The development will increase DoCoMo's first-hand experience with 3G services, which could prove to be a valuable advantage to its current and future partners worldwide.
3G adoption is likely to increase as the handsets and infrastructure improves and subscription costs fall. DoCoMo's aggressive lead will put the company in a strong competitive position. When 3G subscriptions do take-off, DoCoMo's rivals may find themselves losing out as they are left to play catch-up.