Japanese Cellular Market Grows 20 Percent in 1999

Japan's mobile telephone operators ended 1999 with 9 million more subscribers than at the beginning of the year, a rise of 20 percent, according to preliminary data from the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications (MPT).

The MPT said early data for December showed 947,000 new subscriptions were reported for the month, bringing total subscriptions to 54.1 million, an increase of 9.1 million from the end of December 1998. At the present rate, the number of mobile telephone subscriptions is set to eclipse that of fixed-line telephones in the first half of 2000.

Among conventional cellular services, those based on the PDC (personal digital communications) and CDMA (code division multiple access) formats, subscriptions jumped from 39 million at the end of 1998 to 48.5 million at the end of December 1999.

Driving growth in the year, in addition to a general increase in use of cellular, were new interactive services rolled out by providers. They include NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc.'s i-Mode service and the WAP (wireless application protocol)-based services offered on the CDMA networks of DDI Cellular and Nippon Ido Tsushin Inc.

In the PHS (personal handyphone system) market, a lower powered and cheaper mobile technology developed and used in Japan, subscriptions continued a general downward trend and ended the year at 5.6 million, down from 6.0 million at the end of December 1998. The fall in price of conventional cellular services and a new range of features has led to a narrowing of differences between the two services. Customers have been leaving PHS in preference to conventional cellular's better coverage.

The MPT and Telecommunications Carriers Association will release detailed market data, including customer count per operator, later in the month.

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