The wide maturity gap between the wireless markets in the US and Japan was highlighted during a keynote address by chief executive officer Nobuharu Ono at CeBIT America, where he noted that Japanese DoCoMo products would not be arriving in the US in the near future.
Ono said NTT DoCoMo created revenue streams by inventing multimedia products and services to take advantage of its voice and data network.
If the company limited its offerings to voice services, its potential Japanese customer base would reach 120 million, the total of Japan's population. But by offering wireless data services that can be tapped through devices such as handheld computers, automobile PCs, set-top boxes and video monitoring systems, NTT DoCoMo dramatically expands its sales opportunities.
The key to NTT DoCoMo's strategy for future growth is its third-generation (3G) network and the Foma service.
Introduced in 2001, Foma has attracted customers more slowly than anticipated, but has recently begun meeting NTT DoCoMo's expectations. Many of the technical issues that initially inhibited adoption - including the network's scant coverage, and the problems of clunkiness and low battery life that plagued Foma-compatible devices - are fading, Ono said.
Today, 20% of the company's revenue comes from data services. By 2010, 70% to 80% of NTT DoCoMo's revenue will be drawn from such services, he predicted.
While Japanese customers embrace the cutting edge of wireless technologies, the US is slower to upgrade its wireless infrastructure.
AT&T Wireless Services, in which NTT DoCoMo is an investor, said last year it slowed its US 3G plans, and expected to offer full 3G support in just four cities by the end of 2004.
Meanwhile, NTT DoCoMo has 90% of Japan's populated areas covered with its 3G service, and will focus on adding access to underground areas such as subways and shopping malls.
"We have a plan to expand [3G] area coverage twice as fast as we expanded the second-generation network," he said. "Two years from now, we will have the same indoor coverage for Foma that we have for [the] second generation."
Ono also highlighted several gadgets that take advantage of DoCoMo's offerings, including the Wristomo watch-phone. The company's first batch of 1,000 Wristomos were sold out in 10 minutes. The second lot of 1,000 offered lasted just six minutes.
Stacy Cowley writes for IDG News Service