Sony to Launch Japan WLL Service in July

TOKYO (04/11/2000) - Capping more than a year of planning, consumer electronics company Sony Corp. said today it will take on Japan's telecommunications carriers from July with the launch of a wireless local loop (WLL) networking service in Tokyo.

Initially consisting of a network of 29 base stations, the point-to-point and point-to-multipoint service will also be rolled out from July in Yokohama, Nagoya, Osaka, Kyoto and Fukuoka with additional coverage in other areas of Japan planned from December 2000. First trials of the system will begin in Tokyo in May.

The new service, named Bit-drive, fills a big gap in Sony's increasingly network-centric product and service line up. The company already produces network hardware from personal computers and televisions to the new PlayStation 2 games machine, its Sony Communications Network Inc. unit offers an Internet service for consumers and it has recently begun launching a series of web-based content provision services -- but all rely on the network infrastructure of others.

Bit-drive is Sony's first step towards rectifying this gap in its service line-up and will initially be targeted at corporate and SOHO (small office, home office) users. The basic Internet connection service, called Broad Access, will be priced at 150,000 yen (US$1,400) per month for a 1.5M-bps (bits per second) connection. At this price Sony's service comes in slightly cheaper than many of the conventional carriers.

The same service will also be offered at 180,000 yen per month bundled with a network server. This package will be promoted as a quick-start kit for Internet businesses that need to get online quickly, said Sony Digital Network Solutions unit president and chief executive officer Sonobu Horigome at a Tokyo press conference this afternoon.

Other service options include City Access which enables a dedicated communications network to be established between buildings specified by the customer. Envisaged as a way to quickly and cheaply build data networks such as intranets and extranets, the City Access service will cost 70,000 yen per link per month.

The fourth service offering is the nearest the new service will initially get towards serving consumers. The Community Service targets groups of consumers such as those living in an apartment block and is intended to provide the entire facility with permanent Internet connectivity for less than 5,000 yen per month per consumer.

Sony is not stopping with basic data networking services.

The company has developed a dedicated network server, called Digital Gate, for users of Bit-drive. Designed for ease of use, the server can not only be maintained across the network but configured simply. Users just need to inserting a Memory Stick memory card, supplied by Sony, which will contain all the configuration details for the machine. Other components for the network, such as the antennas and routers, will be supplied by Toshiba Corp. and Cisco Systems Inc., said Sony.

The company also plans to offer several services on top of the network including desk-top video conferencing, access to a network of digital creators, Sony's database of high definition images and a virtual online business mall where customers can showcase their products.

Sony hopes to attract 1,000 customers within a year of launch, said Horigome.

Sony Corp., in Tokyo, can be found online at http://www.sony.co.jp/.

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