Since NTT DoCoMo Inc. launched the world's first 3G (third-generation) telecommunication service on May 30, much of the talk, despite its boasts about being first with 3G, has been mostly about technical glitches, handset recalls and the delayed distribution of its video phone.
The video conferencing handset, the P2101V manufactured by Matsushita Communication Industrial Co. Ltd., was delivered into the hands of 1,200 trial users at the end of June. The handset was the third FOMA device to be distributed as part of DoCoMo's trial service, which involves a total of 4,500 people and is scheduled to end on September 30.
Now, with just over a month gone since they first received the handsets, users are starting to detail their experiences using them and evaluating the FOMA service so far.
"I love this visual conversation, using the video camera," said Takeshi Ando, an online entertainment software producer who makes broadband contents such as three-dimensional animations.
As a trial user, he wanted to see the difference between the 3G phone and the PHS (personal handyphone system) handset, which he uses for his job. PHS offers a maximum data download speed of 64K bps (bits per second), the fastest mobile telephone currently available in Japan. In contrast, FOMA allows data to be downloaded up to the speed of 384K bps, according to DoCoMo.
Ando's first impression of the handset was not of data communication speed but of its physical appearance, he said.
The clam-shell designed device is " big, heavy and so unbalanced," said Ando. "When you open it, because the top liquid crystal display part is so thick and heavier than the bottom, it may fall off from your palm."
The handset weighs 150 grams, at least 50 grams heavier than most second-generation handsets on the local market, and measures 105 millimeters by 56 millimeters by 35 millimeters when folded. This is larger than most current clamshell type handsets in all dimensions but most noticeable it the thickness. At 35 millimeters, the handset is almost a centimeter thicker than Matsushita's P503i second generation telephone for DoCoMo.
Ando also said the battery for the video phone doesn't last a day and the connection is constantly interrupted. Similar complains about the short battery life and bad connections were also made by users of the N2001 "standard" type, which is manufactured by NEC Corp. Physical inconvenience of the handset directly influences the use of the service itself. By using the video phone handset, Ando found the FOMA service itself is still in chaos.
"It's just a toy," he said. Although DoCoMo announced that FOMA is targeted at business users, "currently, it is unclear who FOMA is targeted at and how valuable this service is as a commercial product (for business)," he said lamenting the lack of diverse content that takes full advantage of the faster communication speed. "It's now just another I-mode (DoCoMo's current wireless Internet service) which can be browsed on a bigger handset."
In other words, FOMA, at this stage, is following the same path as the 2G (second-generation) I-mode service, he said. When I-mode was launched two and a half years ago, DoCoMo also targeted the service at business users. However, users have tended to prefer using I-mode for entertainment purposes and that has spawned a growth in entertainment-related contents.
Ando doesn't feel right for the FOMA service to be treated in the same way as I-mode. "The network technology is 3G but the interface is I-mode, and it isn't easy to handle the device and the service," he said. "It is frustrating (to see the 3G technology used in this way) because I see many potentials in FOMA."
At work on the move, he is always equipped with four essential devices -- a PHS handset for data communication, a cell phone for voice, a PDA (personal digital assistant) for a calendar and a PC notebook for other tasks. He expects the 3G service to have elements of all four devices but as long as FOMA keeps close to the current I-mode, Ando does not think it will succeed.
"It's partly the hardware's fault," he said. "To have a visual communication, you don't need the dialing buttons on your handset because it is not a (2G) cell phone any longer. I don't understand why the maker doesn't put touch-panel here."
At present, the PHS phone is the mobile tool used for a kind of entertainment services Ando produces, and for work, he thinks that "PHS can do all what I need to do, so I wouldn't become a 3G user after this trial is over."