J-Phone launches 3G - key features missing

20 Dec 2002

Japanese mobile operator J-Phone today launched its 3G service under the brand name Vodafone Global Standard, although the product will initially lack two key aspects, a camera phone function and regular e-mail capability, services which have become necessities to Japanese users. Consequently analysts are sceptical that J-Phone will be able to attract as many customers as it predicts; the cellco aims to sign up a million users by the end of March 2004, an ambitious target given that rival operator NTT DoCoMo launched its Foma 3G service in October 2001 and by the end of last month had just 149,000 customers. J-Phone, however, can offer its 3G users global roaming and dual-mode handsets capable of operating on both 3G and GSM networks, a feature which could be crucial to the service’s success. It also offers global SMS and a universal subscriber identity module (USIM) card for international roaming. J-Phone’s decision to postpone the addition of advanced 3G data services until next September, in favour of introducing a problem-free yet somewhat incomplete product, is a reflection of the difficulties associated with the W-CDMA standard, currently in use by DoCoMo and being readied for launch in Europe. The operator, the first Vodafone subsidiary to launch 3G, expects the service to appeal initially to corporate users, particularly those who regularly travel overseas and will be able to take advantage of international roaming. J-Phone aims to take advantage of its parent company’s experience in the corporate market to increase its proportion of more lucrative business users to around 20%. There is currently just one 3G handset available to J-Phone users, a dual-mode model manufactured by NEC, but two others – by Nokia and Sanyo – will be on the market by the end of the year.