Japan: Cellular to Outnumber Fixed Phones in March

TOKYO (03/08/2000) - The number of mobile telephones is about to surpass the number of analog fixed line phones in Japan, according to data released late yesterday.

Since mid-1999, telecom watchers have been predicting the landmark would be reached in the first quarter of 2000 and, with increasing numbers of people signing up for mobile phones and a continued move away from analog lines, it comes right on schedule.

At the end of February, Japan's mobile telephone carriers had 55.5 million subscribers, up 760,000 on the month, announced the Telecommunication Carriers Association (TCA) yesterday. The association collects subscriber data from all mobile carriers.

Later in the day the two local loop operating subsidiaries of Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corp. (NTT), NTT East Corp. and NTT West Corp., announced they expect to have 55.7 million subscribers at the beginning of April. The estimates were included within revisions to their business plans for the next financial year which will begin in April.

Mobile telephone subscriptions have been consistently rising at between 500,000 and 1 million for the last year and are expected to easily break the 56 million level in March. The month is the busiest for operators as subscriptions rise ahead of new school, university and company years beginning April.

One of the reasons analog fixed line subscriptions have been falling is the popularity of ISDN among Internet users. The digital telephone service offers two channels -- equivalent to two analog telephone lines -- in a single package allowing use of both the Internet and telephone at the same time.

The two NTT units predicted they would have a total of 6.42 million ISDN circuits at the beginning of April meaning mobile telephone operators still have some way to go before they can really claim to have surpassed fixed telephone lines.

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