Japanese mobile phone operator NTT DoCoMo has flipped the 'on' switch for the world's first 3G phone services on 1 October, despite poor trial results.
The firm has been running a limited version of Freedom of Mobile Multimedia Access (FOMA) for 4500 users since the end of May, but reports out of Japan say it has suffered from a raft of technical problems including unreliable connections, software bugs and the short battery life of handsets.
But DoCoMo insisted earlier in the month that these problems have been solved and the service was ready to go live in central Tokyo and select areas within 30 kilometres of the city centre. Coverage in other leading cities is due to follow in December.
Features include a 384Kb downlink, 64Kb up-link and 'landline' sound quality. The networks can handle video clips and music, delivering them through the mobile handsets.
Two users conversing with the top-end handset can see one another thanks to in-built cameras. It costs around £430 (76,800 yen), with a cheaper videophone available at around £320 (56,800 yen) and a data-only handset at £200 (35,600 yen). Varying trade-ins on existing handsets are being offered.
DoCoMo expects to sign up 150,000 users by March 2002, generating around £115m (20bn yen) in handset and services revenues.
European operators, who have invested over £100bn between them on 3G licences, will be watching keenly to see how customers react to the new generation of mobile services.
Analysts expect current handsets and services in Western Europe to generate higher revenues in total over the next five years than their 3G equivalents.
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