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Japan gets unlocked phones and 42Mbps HSPA

DoCoMo hopes advanced network keeps customers loyal

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NTT DoCoMo of Japan, renowned for its tight control of its handset experience, is taking a major step towards open access, and promises to offer all its phones unlocked. From next April, the operator will allow customers to switch handsets and take their devices to other carriers, by inserting a new SIM card, and will include SIM unlock software on all its phones.

This shows the unlocked model, which has made limited progress in many countries because of the lure of subsidies, starting to spread. In some markets, customers are getting restive about the restrictions of carrier contracts and lock-ins, while in others open access is being mandated for some operators, as with Verizon's LTE network in the US.

DoCoMo hopes its advanced network, and early plans to introduce LTE, will keep customers loyal. However, it is under rising competitive pressure, and this week its smallest but most aggressive rival, eMobile, 'soft launched' Japan's fastest network. Using Ericsson kit, the fourth cellco made its new HSPA+ (high speed packet access) services available to select users, promising theoretical download speeds of 42Mbps. This iteration of HSPA+ has only been adopted by a few carriers so far, notably Australia's Telstra.

The full commercial launch of eMobile's data-driven network, in metropolitan areas such as Tokyo, Tokai and Osaka, will take place by year end.

According to Wireless Intelligence, the small player has 2.5 million subscribers - just 2.3 per cent market share - but enjoyed a high year-on-year growth rate of 52.5 per cent to mid-2010. It originally relied on an MVNO model but started rolling out its HSPA network, offering flat rate data services, in 2007. It upgraded to 21Mbps last summer using equipment from Huawei and promises LTE by 2012.

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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