In Japan there were 106,000 subscriptions to the service at 30 April, according to DoCoMo. The number represents an approximate jump of 23,000 subscribers since late March, when company president Keiji Tachikawa told a news conference initial growth for the service had been lower than DoCoMo had originally anticipated.
DoCoMo launched the Foma service in the Tokyo area on 1October after a five-month trial involving around 4,500 users. At the time of the launch, Tachikawa said he was confident Foma could achieve 150,000 subscribers by the end of March. However, total subscriptions remained low through the service's first few months. At the end of January and four months of commercial service, the service had 43,000 users. During the same period, subscriptions to DoCoMo's 2G (second-generation) network had risen by 1.4 million.
In February the company acted on one of the main complaints of potential users - the limited coverage area - which at the time was still only the Tokyo area.
A lack of any dual mode handsets meant Foma subscriptions were basically useless outside this area and so DoCoMo began offering discounts for users who had both a 2G handset and Foma terminal and announced an expansion of the Foma service area. From March, the service went live in Osaka, Nagoya and other major cities while coverage was expanded to 60% of populated areas nationwide from April. Coverage of 90% of populated areas is expected by the end of March 2003.
The result has been a spike in subscriptions, which saw their largest single monthly jump in March. However, the number of new subscribers has since fallen, according to the latest figures from DoCoMo.
One problem DoCoMo still has to tackle is the lack of any killer applications that make use of the 384k bps maximum data transfer rate the W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) system can support. Two of the three handsets currently on the market support video conferencing but, with only 106,000 users nationwide, use of the service is still in its infancy.