Japan has been synonymous with innovation for decades. Some would say technological leadership is in the Japanese DNA.
The Japanese have led the way in cellular technology too: The first pre-commercial 3G network was launched in Japan in 1998. When carriers around the world were focused on voice only (and 4G was but a pipe dream), Japanese cellphones were handling data thanks to i-mode, a service that enabled data to be transferred to and from Internet sites via cellular phones. To some extent, the immediate success of this service in 1999 forced carriers around the world to start thinking about data.
Rooted in this culture and legacy of innovation, the Japanese are eager to continue to lead in mobile technology.
Further, the fierce competition between Japan’s carriers drives innovation as well. After a wave of consolidation and absorption of smaller carriers such as Willcom and E-Mobile, three main carriers compete head-to-head – NTT Docomo, KDDI, and Softbank.
Each of these carriers has been attempting to maximize its subscriber base, optimize service offerings, and demonstrate that it has the best, fastest, highest capacity, and most advanced network in the country -- and even the world.
Advanced LTE market
With a legacy of leadership, it is natural that Japan is a global leader in LTE too. In 2004, NTT DoCoMo was the first to propose LTE as the international standard. In 2010, along with the US and Korea, Japan was one of the first countries to adopt LTE.
And today, according to a recent Open Signal report, Japanese users have access to LTE networks 68% of the time. Japan comes in after South Korea, Sweden and Hong Kong, but ahead of all other countries.
The culture of innovation in Japan is not restricted to the private sector and consumers; the Japanese regulator has also shown flexibility and vision. While regulation has slowed down the move to LTE in other countries, the Japanese regulator has demonstrated a cutting edge approach to the issue. Spectrum was auctioned and then licensed to carriers in a manner that made it cost effective to deploy LTE quickly.
Indeed, the three carriers have invested billions of dollars to achieve near-99% population coverage in Japan.