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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

Keiji Tachikawa, the president of NTT DoCoMo Inc, yesterday hit back at criticisms of his company's FOMA 3G network service, and claimed that despite its sluggish start, FOMA is destined to be a platform for mobile applications for the next 20 years.

Under Tachikawa's leadership, DoCoMo's pioneering approach to mobile data services, embodied in the phenomenally successful i-mode network, has made the company a by-word for leading edge wireless communications. However, since April last year when DoCoMo delayed the launch of FOMA, the world's first commercial 3G service, DoCoMo's image has taken a battering, and FOMA has come to be seen as symbolic of the perceived failure of 3G technology.

Yesterday, in an address to the Wireless Japan 2002 conference in Tokyo, Tachikawa set out to counter this growing pessimism over the future of wireless communications. Although FOMA's growth has been eclipsed by 2.5G offerings from rival operators in Japan, and so far shows no signs of emulating i-mode's runaway success, "there is no need to worry," he said. FOMA's strength lies in its greater bandwidth and more sophisticated infrastructure, and will come into its own as DoCoMo and its customers learn to exploit these strengths with more advanced applications, he said.

Today, according to Tachikawa, the wireless sector is at a crossroads. Demand for largely voice-driven services is tailing-off, although there is still sustainable growth to be had in this area. At the same time, demand is growing for new classes of service encompassing data communications, and shifting from an exclusively "people-to-people" communication orientation, to services offering "people-to-machine" and "machine-to-machine" communications. As the new era of wireless communications emerges, he said DoCoMo plans to focus on three main themes: non-voice communications, communications among all things that move, and strengthening of its overseas strategies.

Understanding of people-to-people services is already high, and will continue to improve as different categories of non-voice traffic are developed. Tachikawa said DoCoMo expects non-voice traffic to account for 50% of network capacity by 2005, rising to between 70% and 80% of all traffic by 2010. By then, he said, overall wireless traffic will have increased fourfold.

A great contribution to the growth of non-voice traffic will come from the emerging areas of people-to-machine, where subscribers will use wireless networks to access music, and conduct electronic payments. Machine-to-machine communications involving applications such as remote systems monitoring and intelligent transport systems will also grow strongly. According to Tachikawa, an era is dawning in which all kinds of devices, such as cameras, refrigerators and video machines will become "customers" for wireless networks. All told, Tachikawa predicted that Japan will have a wireless terminal population as great as 570 million by 2010.

DoCoMo's domestic strategy will be focused on exploiting these emerging sources of wireless traffic, and this home-grown expertise will also continue to be sold abroad. Already, i-mode has been successfully exported to North America, Europe and elsewhere in Asia. Tachikawa said the increased convenience that i-mode offers early users of data-orientated wireless services will accelerate their uptake overseas, to the benefit of the whole wireless industry, including the much-maligned 3G services sector.

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