Softbank, KDDI shaking up Japan market

Caroline Gabriel/Wireless Watch
04 Oct 2011

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This will be a blow to Softbank, which has repeatedly outdone its larger competitors in adding new users, partly because of its Apple device. In August, it added a net 239,000 new users for a total of 26.6 million.

Japanese consumers are heavy mobile broadband users, so the operators are throwing as many technologies as possible at their services. KDDI is tapping into the Wimax network of its UQ joint venture while it waits to deploy LTE, and Softbank is rolling out an upgrade to the ageing PHS network.

This week, KDDI showed off Wimax/CDMA smartphones, mirroring Sprint‘s 4G strategy, which also relies on a JV‘s network. Its president Takashi Tanaka commented: "We thought about how we should respond to customers' needs. Our answer is Wimax." Of six new handsets unveiled, four are Wimax-enabled – including the HTC EVO 3D, also sold by Sprint, and the waterproof the Arrows Z from Fujitsu Toshiba.

Meanwhile, Softbank said it plans to launch a “4G‘ service using the AXGP standard. This combines the XGP successor to the PHS standard – a low cost, voice-oriented service used mainly in Japan and China – with TD-LTE compliance, allowing for a future migration to more standard LTE devices and roaming.

The 2.5GHz spectrum in which the new data network will run was originally allocated to PHS operator Willcom specifically for XGP. But the firm ran into financial difficulties and the new frequencies, and responsibility for a future path for PHS users, was acquired by Softbank.

The operator intends to invest about 100 billion yen ($1.31 billion) in the new infrastructure, initially in city centers. It will cover 90% of the population by the end of fiscal 2012, according to the Nikkei news service, and data rates will surpass those of DoCoMo‘s new LTE-based Xi offering, with 100Mbps peaks.

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