• Japan's largest carrier lost 6 million users over 9 years
  • Docomo was last in Japan to introduce Apple's iPhone

NTT Docomo Inc. says the iPhone and a new pricing plan are ending a subscriber exodus that has reduced the customer base of Japan’s biggest wireless carrier by more than 6 million since 2006.

About 40,000 Docomo users switched to SoftBank Group Corp. and KDDI Corp. in the fiscal first half. That’s down from a loss of 800,000 subscriptions in the same period two years earlier, which ended with Docomo becoming the last Japanese carrier to offer Apple Inc.’s iPhone to customers.

Docomo introduced a flat fee for voice calls and a new data price plan last year and its rivals followed, leaving the nation’s top three carriers with similar price and handset offerings. The shift gave Docomo an advantage that’s attracting some users back, Docomo Chief Financial Officer Hirotaka Sato said.

“The new pricing plan was a change from defense to offense,” Sato said in an interview in Tokyo on Tuesday. “We were late in bringing the iPhone. But that gap is now closed.”

The company and its competitors face calls from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to reduce phone bills as a way to free up more of household budgets for spending on other goods. A government panel is set to make recommendations for rate cuts by the end of the year.

Sato said Docomo will respond to the panel once it announces its recommendations.

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