KDDI is close to choosing the network equipment vendors for a $1.3B mobile WiMax network in Japan

Michelle Donegan

January 15, 2008

3 Min Read
KDDI Nears WiMax Vendor Picks

KDDI Corp. 's mobile WiMax joint venture, Wireless Broadband Planning K.K., is closing in on its vendor choices for a $1.3 billion mobile WiMax network in Japan, and the front-runners are Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) and Samsung Corp. , Unstrung has learned.

KDDI is near the end of its WiMax vendor selection process for the massive network investment and aims to announce the winning suppliers by March. According to industry sources, Fujitsu and Samsung look like the winners at this stage.

A KDDI spokesman says that the joint venture has not yet chosen the suppliers. "We're not disclosing how we choose our vendors," he says. Fujitsu declined to comment, and Samsung did not return Unstrung's calls and emails as this article was published. (See Samsung Scandal.)

The RFP is understood to be very similar to Sprint Corp. (NYSE: S)'s in the U.S. in that the equipment will use the same 2.5GHz frequency band and that both operators require WiMax macrocells to start with and plan to consider picocells and femtocells at a later stage. (See CES: Sprint's in the XOHM, Sprint Launches WiMax Sites, Sprint's Ready to XOHM Out, and Sprint-Clearwire: On Again in 2008?)

"It is not a surprise that the requirements are similar to Sprint's because Sprint has been driving the WiMAX Forum forward," says Philip Solis, principal analyst at ABI Research . "Sprint was probably able to bend things a bit more to their liking given the size of their planned buildout, but did so as part of the WiMAX Forum."

Japan is one of the most watched WiMax markets right now, along with the U.S. and Korea, because KDDI's RFP process is drawing to a close and because of the amount of money the operator has committed to investing in the wireless broadband technology.

"It's the biggest WiMax game in town," says Paul Senior, chief technology officer at Airspan Networks Inc. (Nasdaq: AIRN) and a board member of the WiMAX Forum . "Which vendor they select is the 64-million-dollar question. There are about 20 players that could provide a solution to KDDI. It's the hottest competition in WiMax -- all eyes are on Japan."

KDDI's WiMax joint venture, Wireless Broadband Planning, was awarded a national WiMax license at 2.5 GHz at the end of last year in a beauty contest. The venture has committed to spending 145 billion Japanese yen ($1.3 billion) through March 2014.

Wireless Broadband Planning's investors are KDDI, Intel Capital , East Japan Railway Company, Kyocera Corp. (NYSE: KYO), Daiwa Securities Group Inc., and the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ Ltd.

The other license winner is personal handyphone system (PHS) operator Willcom, which plans to invest $1.7 billion over six years on a next-generation PHS network at 2.5 GHz. The two winners beat out joint ventures led by rivals NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) and SoftBank Corp. . (See KDDI Forms Mobile WiMax JV and WiMax: Still Big in Japan.)

The KDDI spokesman says that Wireless Broadband Planning will deploy 19,000 mobile WiMax base stations nationwide by March 2013, which would cover 90 percent of the population. The goal is to win 5.6 million WiMax customers by March 2014. KDDI's current mobile subscriber base in Japan is 30 million, according to the spokesman.

Trials are due to start in February 2009 and commercial services are planned for the summer of 2009. The service will cost 5,000 yen ($47) per month for unlimited data, mainly accessed via PC or laptop data cards.

"Japan is definitely another country everyone is watching given the spectrum that was just awarded, the forward-thinking mobile wireless service providers involved, and the adoption of technology by Japanese consumers," says Solis.

— Michelle Donegan, European Editor, Unstrung

About the Author(s)

Michelle Donegan

Michelle Donegan is an independent technology writer who has covered the communications industry for the last 20 years on both sides of the Pond. Her career began in Chicago in 1993 when Telephony magazine launched an international title, aptly named Global Telephony. Since then, she has upped sticks (as they say) to the UK and has written for various publications including Communications Week International, Total Telecom and, most recently, Light Reading.  

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