Thursday, August 14, 2008

Japan - Softbank and mobile

iPhone to shake-up Japan's cellphone industry: Softbank official

The arrival of Apple's iPhone 3G will force Japanese cellphone makers to revamp their handsets to allow increasingly sophisticated software, a senior official at Softbank Mobile said Wednesday.

Faced with increased competition, Japanese handset providers will have to provide more software-oriented machines like the touch-screen iPhone, said Tetsuzo Matsumoto, a senior executive vice president at Softbank Mobile.

"It's now the turning point," said Matsumoto, whose company is the only Japanese carrier so far to have launched the iPhone 3G in Japan.

The iPhone's key advantage is that more features and applications can be added to suit the needs of users, he told a press conference.

Softbank Mobile launched Apple's iPhone 3G for the first time in Japan in July, drawing long queues and helping the operator to add more subscribers.

But other operators, such as industry leader NTT DoCoMo, are more sceptical about the iPhone's prospects of success in Japan.

Japan's mobile phone market has developed differently than those in other countries. Here mobile operators, rather than handset makers, develop software and services, and foreign-made handsets have traditionally been unpopular.

NTT DoCoMo, the pioneer of third-generation (3G) telephones, has its own popular "i-mode" high-speed Internet service.

"I think Japanese handsets were uniquely ahead, but such uniqueness may not be so significant" compared with Apple's approach, said Matsumoto.

Mobiles are becoming "more and more sophisticated, more and more PC-like. The conventional way of developing handsets will not work any more," he said.

Despite their popularity at home, Japanese handsets lag far behind those made by global leader Nokia in terms of overseas sales.

Softbank, Japan's number three mobile telephone operator, was a late entrant to the competitive market, buying British giant Vodafone's struggling Japanese unit for 15 billion dollars in 2006.

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