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NTT DoCoMo expects big gains from 4G

Japanese mobile operator NTT DoCoMo's third-generation (3G) Foma service may have made a slow start but that has not dampened the company's enthusiasm for fourth-generation (4G) mobile technologies and the capabilities they could offer users when it is deployed after 2010.

DoCoMo chief executive officer and president Keiji Tachikawa offered insights into his company's hopes for future 4G technologies during a keynote speech yesterday at the IEEE Global Communications conference in Taipei.

Topping DoCoMo's expectations for 4G is greatly expanded bandwidth, which will open up a range of new markets and multimedia applications, such as streaming high-definition video.

"Not only people but anything that could move could become a potential user of mobile communication services," Tachikawa said, standing by his earlier prediction that by 2010 Japan, with a population of around 120 million, will have 570 million devices connected via mobile networks, including 20 million devices worn by cats and dogs.

Increased bandwidth offered by 4G will allow a range of services, such as electronic wallets and virtual reality displays that incorporate three-dimensional visuals, audio and even air pressure fields.

The Wideband Code Division Multiple Access (W-CDMA) 3G technology used for the Foma service offers transfer rates of 384Kbps and allows users to download a 10Mbyte file in about 200 seconds. With 4G, users will see peak data transfer rates of up to 100Mbps, allowing them to download a 10Mbyte file in one second.

The company is also looking at ways to integrate wireless LAN technologies with 4G technologies. "In low mobility areas, such as indoors and in hot spots, it may be necessary to introduce a solution that incorporates wireless LAN type technology for data transmission at even higher speeds," Tachikawa said.

DoCoMo also expects to see substantially lower costs with 4G technology. "The underlying network of 4G must be able to support fast-speed and large-volume data transmission at a lower cost than today," Tachikawa said, adding that he expects 4G system costs to be about 1% to 10% of 3G system costs.

DoCoMo has been working on the development of 4G-related technologies since November 2000. The company's efforts got a boost in March, when it announced plans to build an experimental 4G network, incorporating base stations and handsets, at a research and development facility at the Yokosuka Research Park near Tokyo.

These early research efforts have already paid off. In October, DoCoMo announced its engineers had successfully tested a 4G connection capable of transmitting data at a downlink speed of 100Mbps with an uplink speed of 20Mbps.

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