KDDI Slams Keyboard Kulture

KDDI Corp. president Tadashi Onodera lined up three targets -- NTT DoCoMo Inc. (NYSE: DCM), GSM, and Vodafone Group PLC (NYSE: VOD) -- and took a shot at each of them during a keynote speech at the Wireless Japan 2002 conference in Tokyo on Tuesday, labeling Europe and North America as "keyboard" cultures with big, unwieldy handsets.

First up, DoCoMo. KDDI's CDMA2000 1x service has signed up 1.15 million subscribers -- about 10 times as many as DoCoMo’s 3G FOMA service has won since last October -- in just two months, because KDDI offers superior handsets, good service coverage and inexpensive packet costs, said Onodera.

He then questioned the future of the technology: "How is it going to flourish? In Europe there is no pickup. As far as we are concerned, it's a doubtful environment."

Next up, GSM culture. Onodera posited CDMA as an "Asian" standard, with GSM as the American and European alternatives.

It’s all about culture and keyboards, he said. Korea’s big three telcos have gleaned some 8 million CDMA subscribers and China is ripe for the picking. CDMA is a success because "Japan, Korea, and China have the same culture."

Europe and North America are "keyboard" cultures that are used to putting up with larger, bulkier GSM phones and seem content with voice services, he explained. Europeans got saddled with GSM, he suggested, leaving them with $100 handsets that deliver only voice.

"Japan, Korea, and China are different. We didn’t want to go that way… and [that’s why] Japan developed the best PDC phones," he ranted.

Last, but certainly not least, he dismissed the international roaming strategy of Vodafone, majority shareholder in KDDI's other main rival, J-Phone Co. Ltd. The mobile giant's objectives sound impressive but are not important, suggested Onodera, giving short shrift to Vodafone’s oft-repeated strategy of offering roaming between the international company's GSM and WCDMA networks as a big selling point.

"Global roaming is atarimae," he scoffed, appearing to get a little angry. Atarimae means "so what" or "it's a matter of course," an expression often used by parents to children.

Of course, if the children are cheeky -- and we hope they will be -- they just might be in the mood to snap back.

— Paul Kallender, special to Unstrung
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