DoCoMo to delay 3G rollout until October

NTT DoCoMo, Japan's largest cellular telecommunications carrier and one the biggest supporters of third generation (3G) wireless services, is delaying the roll out of its 3G service by five months until October this year, a company source told IDG News Service.

The delay will prove embarrassing for DoCoMo, which has been promising a roll out in late May and had launched a publicity campaign surrounding the service, pegged as the world's first commercial 3G service. The company had privately set May 30 as the service launch date, according to the source, although had never officially announced that date.

As late as last month at the CeBit trade show in Hanover, Germany, DoCoMo was proudly promoting its upcoming service and telling the thousands of visitors to its booth that it would be launching the service in Tokyo in May. Executives flown over from Japan to meet the press and other industry leaders also spoke of the launch preparations and reiterated that May was the firm target date.

Questions had arisen, within the press and in industry circles, about DoCoMo's ability to meet the date after carriers around the world started delaying their own planned launches and handset providers began warning that they wouldn't be ready on time.

Only two handset makers were expected to have been ready to sell telephones at the end of May. Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. and NEC had recently neared completion of their first handsets and non-working prototypes were shown at CeBit. The vast majority of the 10 companies signed up to make 3G handsets, which include major Japanese electronic companies and foreign handset giants like Nokia, Motorola and Ericsson, have said their products won't be available until later this year or next year.

Such problems, coupled with the large investments required to build the network and doubts about whether consumers would flock to the new systems to enjoy services like mobile video conferencing, already have caused other carriers to delay the launch of their networks.

In Japan, DoCoMo's move mirrors that of J-Phone Communications Co. Ltd., a domestic rival of DoCoMo, which in March delayed the roll out of its service by six months until July 2002, and blamed the slow pace on lagging hardware development.

Beyond the embarrassment, the delay may also slow the deployment of 3G services around the world. Many companies had been looking to Japan as a testing ground for the new technology and several foreign telecommunication equipment vendors had signed joint development pacts with Japanese companies in the hope of gaining access to knowledge learned from DoCoMo's network roll out.

Indeed, it was DoCoMo which began bringing telecommunication equipment makers together in 1998 to start work on a new global standard because it was keen to avoid a repeat of the current situation in which the standard adopted by Japanese carriers is used nowhere else in the world. Japan uses PDC (Personal Digital Communications) and only recently launched a CDMA (Code Division Multiple Access) network. The popular European GSM (Global System for Mobile Communications) system is not used here.

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