US supplier sees 3G sales take off

NTT DoCoMo has said it hopes to have 25 million subscribers on its third-generation mobile phone network by early 2007.

NTT DoCoMo has said it hopes to have 25 million subscribers on its third-generation mobile phone network by early 2007.

By March 2007 the carrier is hoping to have 50 million subscribers, of whom it hopes half will be on the 3G network, said spokesman Eijun Tanaka.

NTT DoCoMo had 46.2 million subscribers at the end of May, of whom just over four million were on the 3G network, according to figures from the Telecommunications Carriers Association.

The 3G service, which the company offers under the Foma brand name, got off to a rocky start after its launch in October 2001. Complaints of poor network coverage and short battery life left it with 89,400 subscribers by the end of March 2002, which was well below the company's target of 150,000.

Poor take-up of the service also forced it to amend its March 2003 target of 1.38 million down to 320,000 users, which it managed to meet.

But subscriptions began to take off in April 2003 when the company began to offer handsets with a set of functions competitive with 2G terminals and with similar battery life and physical size. Now the company is shifting its focus to Foma and has talked about discontinuing 2G handset development in the next one or two handset release cycles.

As the number of users of Foma has risen, NTT DoCoMo has seen a fall in subscribers to its 2G network. Numbers for that network peaked in at 44 million August 2003 and were at 42.2 million at the end of May this year, according to the TCA figures.

Foma is Japan's most successful Wideband CDMA-based network. It easily leads Vodafone KK's service, which launched at the end of 2002 and had 173,000 subscribers at the end of May this year.

KDDI's Australian network has the largest number of 3G subscribers. It is based on the competing CDMA2000 technology, one of the features of which is an easy upgrade path from 2G networks and services. As a result the technology was quickly rolled out and had 14.4 million subscribers at the end of May. Its total subscriber base is 17.4 million users.

Martyn Williams writes for IDG

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