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DoCoMo Shells Out on LTE

NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM) is set to invest ¥300 billion to ¥400 billion ($3.06 billion to $4.07 billion) in its Long Term Evolution (LTE) network during the next five years, The Nikkei reports.

DoCoMo's president, Ryuji Yamada, told the Global ICT Summit 2009 (an event hosted by The Nikkei and Japan's Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications) that the carrier intends to roll out 20,000 base stations that will cover 50 percent of the Japanese population by 2014, according to the report.

DoCoMo is planning to launch commercial LTE services in the second half of 2010, making it among the first to launch the next step in the evolution of mobile access network technology. The Japanese giant was the first to launch commercial 3G services back in 2001. (See DoCoMo LTE Devices in 2010 and Japan's 3G Needs a Kick Start.)

The operator began working with Fujitsu Ltd. (Tokyo: 6702; London: FUJ; OTC: FJTSY) and Fujitsu Laboratories Ltd. on the development of its LTE access capabilities as far back as 2006, and has demonstrated speeds of around 120 Mbit/s (using 10 MHz bandwidth) in real urban trials with the two vendors, and even speedier downloads in other trials. (See Fujitsu Conducts Collaborative Field Testing of LTE and DoCoMo Takes LTE to 250 Mbit/s.)

DoCoMo is also working with Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) on its LTE base station developments, and with Fujitsu and Nokia Networks on its LTE core requirements. (See NSN, Fujitsu Team for DoCoMo LTE, Fujitsu Wins 'Super 3G' Deal , and DoCoMo Picks Ericsson LTE.)

As it did with 3G, the mobile world is keeping a close eye on DoCoMo's rollout and service launch.

This time around, though, DoCoMo is running a standard version of the technology -- it launched its initial 3G service with a variant of WCDMA -- and will not be streets ahead of other Tier 1 mobile carriers this time around. Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ), Telia Company , and China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE: CHL) are on a similar schedule, the latter with the TD version of LTE. (See Sweden Claims LTE First, Verizon Wants LTE ASAP, and China Mobile Preps LTE Network.)

In fact, DoCoMo may not even be that far ahead of its national competitors, as KDDI Corp. is also rumored to be targeting an early deployment of LTE, as well as rolling out WiMax through its joint venture, UQ Communications Inc. (See KDDI Goes LTE and Intel Pumps Millions Into Japanese WiMax).

SoftBank Mobile Corp. , the third mobile operator in Japan, is not pushing as hard, as it doesn't yet have the 20 MHz block of spectrum it believes is necessary for effective LTE deployment. It also believes a good range of terminals is vital for LTE takeup, and that a decent selection won't be available in 2010.

DoCoMo intends to launch its LTE service with data-only devices, such as data cards and dongles, initially, and introduce LTE mobile handsets at a later date.

Softbank, on the other hand, is planning to migrate to HSPA+ in the near term and to deploy LTE in a 2012/13 timeframe. That doesn't mean the operator is ignoring LTE altogether at the moment: The operator's chairman and CEO, Masayoshi Son, has stated it will begin investing in LTE soon, with a planned expenditure on the proto-4G technology of around ¥100 billion ($1.02 billion) during the next few years. (See AT&T Signs Corning.)

Japan is therefore set to have two competing LTE operators and all three of the most advanced wireless access technologies -- LTE, HSPA+, and WiMax -- going head-to-head-to-head in one of the world's most data hungry and tech savvy markets by 2011.

— Catherine Haslam, Asia Editor, Light Reading

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