DoCoMo Takes FOMA On The Road
By Carlo Longino, Fri Jul 16 16:45:00 GMT 2004

The carrier is setting up a temporary FOMA network for the upcoming Athens Olympics for its roaming customers to use, with the same services and pricing as if they were home in Japan.

Granted, the company's only installing three base stations in Athens, but -- if memory serves correctly -- it's the first time a carrier's done something like this. DoCoMo's release was short on details, but given the way governments love to regulate and license, it's probably safe to assume they've got something going with Greek carrier Cosmote, which is an i-mode licensee.

The move is evidently necessary because there aren't any applicable 3G roaming agreements in place, and of course FOMA handsets aren't compatible with 2G and 2.5G GSM networks (something DoCoMo wants to change). But the temporary network, which will be open from July 30 to September 30, will be connected to DoCoMo's FOMA network in Japan by a "private international line". Handsets will act just like they were at home, with i-mode and video services available, but users probably care more about the fact that they won't be billed for any roaming charges.

Calls will be billed just as if the user was in Japan -- so calls back to the country as well as calls to another FOMA user in Greece will be billed at the standard rate. The only drawback? DoCoMo says that while the network will cover several Athens landmarks and major tourist areas, the Olympic Stadium won't have coverage.

It's interesting to see a carrier make a move like this, given the high roaming rates users pay that must represent a significant revenue stream. But VoIP networks, especially VoWLAN, will exert pricing pressure on these charges. Many frequent travelers are taking handsets like those from Vonage on international trips and plugging them into broadband lines to avoid both the high roaming rates charged by mobile carriers, but also outrageous hotel long-distance fees.

Multinational carriers have long held that one advantage of increasing their scope around the world was that it would lower roaming charges for end users. While most offer discounted roaming on their partner networks, the savings are often minimal. Hopefully the transition to an all-IP world will see transmission cost savings passed along to end users.