For a company unconvinced by the potential of WLAN technology, KDDI sure is spending a lot of time and energy on it

July 15, 2002

4 Min Read

KDDI Corp. is experimenting with super-fast wireless LAN technologies that can deliver high-definition TV (HDTV) transmissions to PDAs and other mobile terminals.

Having already dabbled with links between its live and trial CDMA networks and WLAN equipment, the mobile operator is doing a passable impression of a company desperate to find a business case for incorporating WLAN technology into its strategy, despite publicly remaining cool about its potential. And KDDI seems reluctant to announce its intentions to the wider world: News of these latest trials was published in Japanese-language releases only.

So what is it up to? The carrier's R&D team is to embark on a two-year program of experiments in Fukushima Prefecture, north of Tokyo, to test WLAN transmissions on the 5GHz (4.91-4.99GHz) spectrum at speeds of up to 36 Mbit/s.

KDDI Labs will deploy a mix of Japanese and proprietary technologies and standards based on the High Speed Wireless Access Network/Advanced Wireless Access System (HiSWAN/AWA) standard designed for very high bandwidth WLAN transmission. HiSWAN is a Japanese version of the HiperLAN2 standard that was created by European standards body European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI). However, HiperLAN2 is losing favor among vendors and carriers alike, which are favoring the 802.11 standards developed by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc. (IEEE).

But the acronym frenzy does not stop there. KDDI claims to have developed a high-speed wireless access device it has ingeniously called the "Reconfigurable BroadBand Radio in 4.9GHz band," codenamed RBBR49 (honest!), and a real-time packet error correction transmission system the company has named "Video & Audio Storage and Transmission system for HDTV" (VAST-hd). Using these technologies, KDDI believes it can successfully broadcast real-time HDTV to portable wireless terminals.

KDDI is already working hard at testing connectivity solutions between its CDMA–based networks and WLANs. In May, the company announced it had succeeded in maintaining data connections between CDMA2000 1xRT/1xEV-DO devices and an 802.11b WLAN device -- provided by Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) -- in a moving vehicle.

All this from a company playing down the prospects for WLAN networks. Only last month KDDI told Unstrung it was cautious about investing in WLAN technology as it had limited profit potential (see DoCoMo Plays Its Hotspot Ace).

“Our business model has not changed,” says KDDI media relations advisor Haruhiko Maede when asked about these developments. “We may do some transmission services for HDTV, [but] we are not interested in content. Our interest is in transmission techniques, [and] we need to accumulate the technical know-how."

Maede insists the company remains skeptical about whether it can make money from WLAN services.

Gartner/Dataquest senior telecom analyst Akiyoshi Ishiwata believes the carrier is just keeping its intentions close to its chest. "KDDI has an interest in WLAN but it is not prepared to announce what services it wants to launch yet," Ishiwata tells Unstrung. HDTV may turn out to be a so-called "killer application" for WLAN in the future, he adds.

However, KDDI's move appears to be somewhat defensive, as a number of other Japanese wireless network operators have already announced their intentions to use 802.11b and 802.11a WLAN technologies.

In May, NTT Communications Corp. launched a dual IEEE 802.11a/b service in several hundred hotspots in Tokyo, saying it would boost the network to about 1,000 by the end of the year. Then in June NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) became the first Japanese mobile operator to declare its WLAN plans by announcing the launch of its "Mzone" 802.11b service in nine locations in the Tokyo district from July 1. Vodafone Group PLC (NYSE: VOD) subsidiary Japan Telecom has been running WLAN trials using 802.11b equipment since September 2001 with rail company JR East at 12 stations dotted around the country, including both terminals at Narita Airport, just outside Tokyo.

KDDI is not the only company experimenting with HiSWAN-based services. In March the government-backed Yokosuka Research Park, a public-private research institute, along with some of the biggest electronics and media companies in Japan, including Matsushita Communication Industrial Co. Ltd., announced HiSWAN–based transmission trials that included data downloads to PDAs.

— Paul Kallender, special to Unstrung

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