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Japan 5G: NTT DoCoMo cuts in on SoftBank launch

In the least surprising move this year, NTT DoCoMo has cut in on SoftBank's 5G launch.

The largest Japanese cellco has set its 5G launch for next Wednesday, two days ahead of the date set by rival SoftBank early this month. (See SoftBank ignites Japan 5G market with March 27 launch.)

The announcement does feel slightly rushed. DoCoMo says it will have just 500 active basestations at around 150 locations nationwide at launch.

By June that will expand to all 47 prefectures, and with the arrival of new handsets the maximum download speed will also increase from 3.4 Gbit/s to 4.1 Gbit/s.

DoCoMo says it expects to deploy 10,000 basestations by June 2021 and 20,000 by March 2022. It is also aiming for 20 million 5G subscribers by the end of the 2023-24 fiscal year. Currently it has 79.7 million mostly 4G customers.

With seven devices, including the Samsung Galaxy S20 and a Wi-Fi 6/5G router, it is carrying a broader handset range than Softbank.

But neither is selling an iPhone, by far Japan's dominant smartphone brand, accounting for nearly two-thirds of sales last year.

In an online press conference on Wednesday, NTT DoCoMo president Kazuhiro Yoshizawa revealed new services such as 8k virtual reality live music, multi-angle viewing of video and sporting events and more than 100 new game titles, including a number of cloud-based games.

In an online slide deck the operator pitches 5G as an engine for new value creation and a "solution for social issues" such as the declining birth rate and shrinking labor force.

It's also come up with 22 solutions, such as smart glasses to enable remote working, and a facial recognition service. Partners include parent NTT, Japanese AI firm EdgeMatrix, NEC and smartglasses specialist AceReal.


Want to know more about 5G? Check out our dedicated 5G content channel here on Light Reading.


Docomo is offering two types of price plan: a 100GB plan for 5,480 yen ($51) per month and a pay-as-you-go service priced at JPY3,980 ($37) for 7GB.

By comparison, SoftBank has said it will offer its 100GB 5G package as a JPY1,000 ($9.35) add-on to its existing 4G plan, which sells at JPY6,500 ($60) for 50GB.

KDDI, Japan's number-two operator by subscriber numbers, is also expected to announce its 5G plans shortly.

Following the announcement NTT DoCoMo's stock on the Tokyo exchange rose 3.52%.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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