US-based wireless technology and equipment provider NextWave Wireless is looking to acquire a 69.23% equity stake in the struggling Japanese mobile start-up IPMobile, in a bid to become the first foreign mobile carrier in Japan after Britain’s Vodafone Group pulled out of Vodafone KK last year. The US group is looking to buy the stake that Mori Trust Co. bought in April. The telecoms regulator the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications (MIC) is expected to rubber stamp the acquisition, although sceptics agree that IPMobile – even under NextWave’s wing – could struggle to establish itself as the country’s fifth network operator. IPMobile’s licence is set to expire unless it can launch commercial operations by November 2007 – two years after it was allocated frequency by the MIC.
IPMobile has faced a number of financial difficulties which have thus far prevented it from becoming operational. Although Mori Trust bought in to the venture earlier this year, when it bought shares from IPMobile’s parent Multimedia Research Institute Corp, the real estate developer made it clear it was ultimately looking for a buyer with a telecoms background for the operator, and that it only planned to support IPMobile’s initial launch of services using TD-CDMA technology. IPMobile was issued with its frequencies in autumn 2005, along with Softbank Mobile and eMobile (part of the eAccess group). Although the other two companies have launched commercial operations, IPMobile is still way behind schedule, notes the The Asahi Shimbun newspaper.