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Oh, and DoCoMo launched LTE

Unless you live in Japan, one news item you may have missed during the holiday break is that NTT DoCoMo made good on its plans to launch its LTE service on Christmas Eve.

And, like the other big LTE launches in 2010, it’s a bit underwhelming, thanks mainly to a lack of devices.

DoCoMo launched the service, branded “Xi” (pronounced “crossy”), in the urban centers of Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka, with data speeds up to 37.5 Mbps for the downlink and 12.5 Mbps for the uplink outdoors, and up to 75 Mbps downlink speeds for indoor users.

Users traveling out of LTE range will be handed over seamlessly to DoCoMo’s 3G network.

However, the service is only being offered as a data-only service for laptop users. DoCoMo said it plans to introduce LTE-compatible handsets, including voice service over its 3G network, by March 2012.

Which is understandable, but it’s the latest example of how all the hype over LTE arriving in 2010 (which is to say earlier than originally projected) is culminating mainly in soft launches just under the end-of-2010 wire in a kind of “we launched 4G first” publicity coup.

That’s not to say the current batch of LTE launches were an unnecessary waste of money. That’s for the shareholders and board members to ultimately decide.

In the case of Xi, DoCoMo said via its newsletter that it will have spent over $400 million on its LTE network by March this year, by which time it will cover 7% of the population with about 1,000 base stations.

DoCoMo plans to spend over $3.6 billion on network build-out by March 2013, with 15,000 base stations serving 40% of the population, and 70% coverage planned by March 2015.

DoCoMo also said it expects 25% of its 3G user base (around 15 million subscribers) to migrate to Xi by March 2015.

Which doesn’t seem like a lot. On the other hand, DoCoMo is also banking on LTE – and subsequent new content services like cloud computing and augmented reality apps – to boost its data revenues well beyond voice. The operator aims to hit a consolidated operating income target of at least $10 billion by the end of its fiscal year ending in March 2013.