Refocused on export markets

05 Sep 2007

Japan's ICT leaders, worrying about the poor performance in recent years of some of its key technologies and businesses in global communications and broadcasting markets, are finalizing some short-term R&D countermeasures.

One of these involves the MIC designating parts of Hokkaido and Okinawa, which have very low utilization of the radio spectrum, as 'Special Ubiquitous Zones' from as early as next year and then providing funds for special mobile communications R&D projects.

The zones already have some degree of R&D capability, such as private or university labs, and the idea is to exempt them from the country's tough spectrum provisions so researchers can conduct experiments using any frequencies they choose. The move is intended to make it easier and faster to develop mobile business-related products for sale in countries where the frequency allocations are different from Japan's.

Besides introducing Special Ubiquitous Zones, the plan proposes revising the current R&D policy, which was established in 2005 and specifies three core ICT fields: universal communications, next-generation networks, and security and safety. MIC's top advisory body, the Telecommunications Council, is reviewing the mid- and long-term R&D strategy.

'The big problem is that many Japanese companies are surviving by just catering to the domestic market,' explained Tomoyuki Tanuma, deputy director of the MIC's Information and Communications Policy Bureau. 'In some recent cases companies were too late when they tried to enter foreign markets and they failed,' he said.

'Replicating the wireless environment overseas will be useful, but it's only one component in making an overseas strategy,' noted George Hoffman, IDC Japan's group manager for communications. 'To be successful in overseas, Japanese makers will need to invest resources in addressing vital factors such as old and new competition, vendor/carrier relationships, new services, end-users trends, sales and distribution processes, all of which differ from one market to another.'

In blaming R&D for the country's ICT export problems yet relying on it as the main solution, one wonders whether the analysis isn't also ignoring deeper factors like politics and the very structure of Japanese industry. NHK's HDTV technology was years ahead of anything comparable overseas, but it still couldn't succeed internationally.

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