DoCoMo Snaps Back

Not content with regaining its traditional number one position for new mobile phone subscribers, NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) now seems to be going snap-happy, putting cameras on even its lowly PHS (Personal Handyphone System) handsets (see DoCoMo Intros Lookwalk).

The latest figures from Japan's Telecommunications Carriers Association show that DoCoMo signed up 267,000 new subscribers in June, beating KDDI Corp. (with a relatively meek 131,400) into second place. In fact, in a remarkable turnaround, DoCoMo nearly doubled its subscriber growth compared with May, when, for the first time since 1996, DoCoMo failed to top the new subs chart.

DoCoMo attributes its massive June uptake to the launch of its 5904 series i-mode handsets. These can download up to 28.8 kbit/s, three times the previous i-mode speed, says DoCoMo spokesman Nobuo Hori. In addition, DoCoMo recently caught up with rivals KDDI and J-Phone Co. Ltd. in catering to the current camera-phone craze with its i-shot models.

Adding a lens to any mobile "form factor" appears to be DoCoMo's latest strategy. On July 17 it is set to launch a camera phone called Lookwalk from Matsushita Communication Industrial Co. Ltd. that works on the chronically untrendy PHS network, which is now regarded as a joke among Japan's sophisticated urbanites. Just 5.6 million of Japan’s 70.7 million mobile phone subscribers still use PHS handsets. DoCoMo has 1.8 million of these apparently behind-the-times subscribers.

But what's this? You reckon the ugly cousin of Japanese mobile technology could be DoCoMo's strongest nationwide competitor to KDDI's CDMA 1x service and J-Phone's movie sha-mail? Can it be true that PHS's 64-kbit/s capability means the Lookwalk will upstage the i-shot handsets by enabling moving pictures? (Answers on a multimedia postcard, please.)

Ironically, while Lookwalk users will not be able to send video clips to the 32 million i-mode subscribers, they will be able to send them to another of Japan's minority mobile communities, DoCoMo's own 3G FOMA customers -- all 112,000 of them.

— Paul Kallender, special to Unstrung
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