By Tony Dennis
4G? Not in this decade. "I would recommend that the newspaper community forget about 4G," Dr Keiji Tachikawa, president and CEO of NTT DoCoMo, told journalists in his media address yesterday. Tachikawa was expounding DoCoMo's vision of a ubiquitously connected society and was adamant that 4G is only going to be a commercial proposition 10 years hence. He conceded that voice-based revenues are presently in decline but insisted that DoCoMo was well placed -- with its FOMA (Freedom Of Mobile multimedia Access) 3G service -- to grow its data revenues from their current level of 20 per cent. DoCoMo signed up its one millionth FOMA customer September 30.
DoCoMo's president seemed most visibly irritated by questions concerning the company's relationship with Microsoft. While politely claiming he was perfectly prepared to work with Microsoft, Tachikawa criticised Microsoft's lack of 'openness' -- with particular reference to Passport, a failed joint m-commerce initiative. He also faced a barrage of questions over DoCoMo's relationship with the UK's Hutchison 3G, in which it holds a 20 per cent stake. Tachikawa "applauded the company for its courage in forging ahead with a 3G network in Europe while other more prominent carriers hold back."
Pressed over Hutchison 3G's obvious reluctance to launch an i-mode-based service in the UK, Tachikawa revealed that there were other UK carriers willing to do so. Indeed he dropped a very strong hint that the company is less worried about pushing the i-mode brand and far more interesting in licensing the technology as it has done in Hong Kong with Orange World. Asked whether DoCoMo intended to change its i-mode pricing structure in Japan, Dr Tachikawa said the status quo would remain while his company worked with content providers to develop killer applications and killer content.
"Although the introduction of video-telephony is the cherished dream of a carrier, people are not really as fond of it as we imagined -- with a few exceptions," Tachikawa revealed. He said that lovers and grandparents with their grandchildren liked video-telephony but the biggest take up is with business users for videoconferencing. Nonetheless, DoCoMo will continue to push all forms of video over 3G since research has shown that humans obtain 30 per cent of their information by audio means while the remaining 70 per cent is obtained visually. The company will be providing customers with financial incentives to migrate from 2G to 3G. He pointed out that with the steepest discount tariffs on FOMA, packets sent over 3G now are one-fifteenth the cost of packets sent via 2G.
Perhaps the most startling claim concerned DoCoMo's attempts to wire up absolutely everything now that one in five people globally are connected to a cellular network. NTT DoCoMo's aim is to achieve 570 million connections by 2010. While this figure includes 120 humans plus 50 million mobile PCs, it also includes 20 million dogs and cats -- ahead of 10 million refrigerators, motorcycles, yachts and drinks vending machines. That would give DoCoMo more feline and canine subscribers than Vodafone currently possesses human subscribers in the UK.
Dennis is an ITU Telecom World 2003 On-Line News Service contributor