Moto's Big Break in Japan

Vodafone Group plc (NYSE: VOD)'s Japanese operator J-Phone Co. Ltd. has told Unstrung it is thinking of signing up Motorola Inc. (NYSE: MOT) to supply dual-mode WCDMA/GSM handsets for its 3G launch in December, a move that would give the vendor its first punt at the Japanese market.

The operator wants to sell these phones even though GSM is not used in Japan: It's all part of Vodafone's scheme to enable Japanese users to roam onto Vodafone's GSM networks worldwide.

"We are currently in discussion with Motorola for dual-mode terminals,” states J-Phone spokesman Matthew Nicholson, who can only confirm NEC Corp. (Nasdaq: NIPNY) and Sanyo Electric Co. as definite suppliers for 3G handsets at present.

But will the gadget-loving Japanese public be tempted by devices that won't offer high-end color screens and 300,000+ pixel cameras? "At least at the launch we are going to be appealing to business [users] with a global connectivity [offer], and the handsets will be plain vanilla. At the time of launch, the main point will be global roaming,” states Nicholson. Unstrung prefers a twist of something with its vanilla, but that's just us.

Such a deal would be a coup for Motorola, giving it a long-sought-after toehold in the Japanese market, says IDC Japan analyst Michito Kimura.

No doubt J-Phone's handset team, as well as interested parties at its parent company's headquarters in the U.K., will be watching carefully when Hutchison 3G UK Ltd. launches its service in Britain (allegedly) before the end of this year, as Motorola is one of the dual-mode suppliers there. It'll help the phone-maker's cause greatly if the handsets actually work.

— Paul Kallender, special to Unstrung
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