Japan ends 2001 with 73M wireless users

Japan saw the number of wireless telephone subscriptions jump 13.9 percent in 2001 to end the year at 72.8 million users, according to data from an industry group, the Telecommunication Carrier's Association (TCA).

NTT DoCoMo Inc. again led the market with a 59.1 percent share at the end of 2001. Second-place KDDI Corp., which offers services under the 'Au' brand name, had a 17.8 percent share although this is under threat. Rival J-Phone narrowed the gap between second and third place in December to just 0.3 million subscribers and seems on track to wrestle second place from KDDI early in 2002. J-Phone ended 2001 with a 17.3 percent share.

In the PHS (Personal Handyphone System) market subscriptions continued to slide. Offered originally as a cheaper alternative to conventional cellular services, the low-powered PHS service was hit when cellular carriers cut their charges and has never managed to recover. At the end of 2001 there were 5.7 million PHS subscribers, down from 5.9 million at the end of 2000.

The jump recorded in total wireless subscriptions was down on previous years as saturation begins to hit the rate at which carriers can sign up new subscribers. One result of the market slowdown has been a successful attempt by the carriers to promote wireless Internet services, which provide a second source of income to keep revenues growing.

In this area subscriptions charged ahead in 2001, jumping from 26.9 million at the end of 2000 to 48.5 million at the end of the year. In terms of penetration, 72.3 percent of cellular subscribers had wireless Internet service on their handsets at the end of the year, up from 46.4 percent at the end of 2000, according to the TCA.

The most popular service was NTT DoCoMo's I-mode with 29.3 million users. J-Phone's J-Sky was second placed with 9.0 million users and KDDI's EZWeb was in third with 8.8 million users.

Last year was also the first year that third-generation (3G) cellular services were offered in Japan and NTT DoCoMo, the only carrier to currently be offering such services, ended the year with 27,000 subscribers. The service was launched on Oct. 1 and is off to a slow start. Based on the latest data from the TCA, NTT DoCoMo needs to increase the rate at which it signs up 3G customers in order to reach its target of 150,000 subscribers by the end of March this year.

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