DoCoMo dreams beyond the cellular handset

NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan's leading cellular carrier, made headlines last year when it suggested up 360 million cellular terminals may be in use in Japan by 2010, among them 20 million on cats and dogs. Now the company has expanded its vision further by increasing its estimation to up to 570 million terminals.

Achieving this target would be no small feat for NTT DoCoMo or Japan's other two major cellular carriers, given Japan's population of 127 million people. The company is not looking to get multiple telephones into the hands, pockets and purses of the Japanese, although this plays a small part in the plan, but rather to dream up new users for wireless terminals and hoping that users will adopt 3G (third- generation) cellular services at home in favor of fixed wire services.

Last year the company said it expects up to 360 million terminals in the Japanese market in 2010. One third of these, some 120 million terminals, will be accounted for by conventional cellular handsets with the remainder being non-voice terminals, predicted NTT DoCoMo.

It forecast up to 100 million automobiles and 60 million bicycles could be fitted with terminals that allow them to be tracked or alert owners that they have been stolen. Up to a further 50 million terminals are expected to be built into mobile personal computers and as many as 20 million attached to pets for tracking purposes; the remaining 10 million are expected to be integrated into things like ships and vending machines.

The company's expanded vision, which was recently revealed by company president Keiji Tachikawa during a closed presentation to a handful of people at Tokyo's prestigious Waseda University School of Business, now sees up to 570 million wireless terminals in Japan by 2010.

The increase comes not as a result of higher expectations for the potential business areas already announced, but with a belief that people will use the company's wireless network from the home and in a new range of devices.

Tachikawa predicted up to 90 million television sets will include wireless terminals so that users can access broadband video content, that 50 million digital still cameras will be fitted with the technology, and that 40 million refrigerators will have built-in terminals, the latter to communicate to users their contents while they are shopping.

Additionally, he said he expects up to 30 million miniature terminals will be in use by parcel delivery companies, which will attach them to packages upon pick up so that they can be tracked throughout their entire journey, to be removed on delivery.

"I think individuals will have maybe multiple terminals that will have some kind of wireless capability built into it but I don't necessarily think we need a refrigerator with wireless capability," said George Hoffman, research director with the Yankee Group in Tokyo.

"We'll have a PDA (personal digital assistant) and cell phone for different uses and they should have wireless capability built into them, then we might have a car and we may be carrying a notebook PC," said Hoffman. "Those will have wireless capabilities built into them so it's very reasonable to assume that we will have more than a few devices that will have wireless capability built into them and of course service providers will have that much more revenue stream so I think the price per service will be reduced significantly just to stay connected."

"We have 120 million people and if we just multiply that by three we already have 360 million and I think there is some sort of potential for wireless terminal in the 400 million range," he said.

"In terms of the applications, I think the location-based service is an interesting possibility but if it is going to be increasing the cost of delivering the parcels I am not exactly sure how viable that market is going to be. I don't know how many parcels are getting lost in the mail or by the delivery services but if they need to do that and as long as it doesn't increase the price to the customer then there is a viable market," said Hoffman.

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