The fierce competition between Japan's three dominant mobile carriers entered a new phase August 31 when NTT DoCoMo began HSDPA service in central Tokyo with a single NEC handset capable of data packet downloads of up to 3.6 Mbps - ten times the speed of the fastest previous FOMA handsets. There is no extra charge for HSDPA service.
KDDI, whose entire corporate success owes much of its decision to adopt CDMA and differentiate itself from DoCoMo, has responded by announcing it will roll out of the world's first commercial EV-DO Revision A service from December and has already announced two handsets. While HSDPA will offer a slightly faster maximum speed, Rev. A will be capable of more than four times faster upload (1.8 Mbps) and offer greater efficiency. One key feature is delay control, which enhances QoS and enables VoIP support.
At a press conference Fumio Watanabe, general manager of KDDI's Technology Planning and Development division, likened HSDPA to the existing EV-DO Rev. 0 service and said that Rev. A together with the multicasting BCMCS service being launching in September nationwide are key infrastructure developments in the evolution of a total IP network.
DoCoMo's HSDPA will be available in all major cities by the end of October, and DoCoMo plans to offer HSPDA coverage to 70% of the population by the end of March 2007 and 90% a year later.
With number portability due to start October 24, DoCoMo is already more than holding its own against KDDI. In the first four months of this fiscal year DoCoMo has added 718,000 new subs compared to KDDI's 682,000 (thanks to a good July) while the lagging Vodafone struggles with just 57,100.
But some industry watchers are unimpressed by the latest mobile data announcements.
'At this moment the real issue is not the network, but the terminal, especially screen size, and pricing,' explained Kazuyo Katsuma, analyst and VP at J.P. Morgan Securities Asia. 'That is why the carriers are focusing on music distribution. Users will not be able to enjoy the wider benefits of high-speed data transmission until the screen is larger than the current 2.4- to 2.6-inch average.'
KDDI's pioneering of Rev. A will be the first major CDMA deployment in which Korean companies have not played a major role. Korea is now putting priority on W-CDMA and on its own indigenous mobile data agenda, but, interestingly, the third-ranked carrier LG Telecom is expected to start Rev. A deployment in Q1 next year.