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Setting Fire To The Cell-Phone Market

Softbank's Son sues to open the cellular spectrum to outsiders -- such as himself

Three years ago, Masayoshi Son walked into Japan's communications ministry and threatened to set himself on fire. A stunt of course, but he was deadly serious about one thing: He felt regulators were dragging their feet in forcing Japan's Nippon Telegraph & Telephone Corp. (NTT ), the former monopoly operator, to fulfill its legal obligation to connect residential customers to the broadband lines of Yahoo! BB, a mainstay of Son's Softbank Corp.

The theatrical gesture worked. The ministry bore down on NTT, and it soon started linking its lines to Softbank's, setting the cozy world of Japanese telecom ablaze. Today, some 4.5 million Japanese pay about $35 monthly for Yahoo! BB, and NTT itself has introduced a rival high-speed plan that 6 million have signed up for.