Vodafone Japan Looks to Rebound
By Carlo Longino, Mon Dec 01 18:45:00 GMT 2003

Vodafone KK, formerly J-Phone, got a huge boost when it was the first Japanese carrier to introduce camera phones and picture messaging. But it's struggled to keep pace with KDDI's zippy 1X network, but recently outlined its plans to fight back.

KDDI has been blowing away Vodafone and NTT DoCoMo's 3G networks in terms of subscriber additions, and KDDI's recent shift to a flat-rate pricing structure hasn't helped either. Vodafone also shot itself in the foot by cutting the number of handset models available to consumers, something that didn't go down well.

But Vodafone is cutting call and data rates, and introducing several new services and handsets. Key to widening their handset offerings is the global Vodafone mandate that from October 2004, all their new handsets must support GSM and UMTS -- making the Japanese market accessible to the world's top handset manufacturers, who have thus far found little success in the country.

This comes as Vodafone's European units are looking to Japanese manufacturers like Sharp and Panasonic in an effort to reduce their dependence on and the influence of the major device makers like Nokia. But either way, a mandate from the world's biggest carrier will carry a lot of weight and go a long way toward finally giving 3G handsets mass-market traction, as well as giving these manufacturers a smoother entry into the Japanese market.