KDDI Flashes Lights to Pass DoCoMo
By Eric Lin, Mon Apr 12 22:45:00 GMT 2004

DoCoMo still owns over 50% of the wireless market in Japan. They may have the most subscribers, but KDDI took the title for most new subs in financial year 2003.

Japanese subscriber data for March has just been released. The news is good for DoCoMo, who added 412,800 subscribers. This is a dramatic increase in new users compared to the paltry gains made in the last few months, doing especially well in FOMA subscriptions which have grown by one million in last two months alone. Despite DoCoMo's healthy recovery, they were still edged out by KDDI who added 475,700 subs last month.

This month KDDI was only 15% ahead of DoCoMo, but combined with the rather healthy gains they made over the last few months, KDDI actually beat out DoCoMo for most new subscribers in FY 2003. Japan Today translates the results: DoCoMo added 2,065,700, while KDDI add almost a million more users growing by 2,909,700.

Business Week must have written their report before this month's results were in, because they only added up the past 11 months instead of the past year. However they have some thoughtful analysis on the KDDI vs. DoCoMo situation. They cover our usual pro-KDDI points (sexy handsets, affordable flat-rate data), but also point out that although KDDI's 1xRTT "AU" is doing very well, their 1xEV-DO "WIN" platform is starving with less than half a million subscribers.

When looking at the current match up, as well as how each company is approaching the future, Business Week digs up an amusing quote from current DoCoMo chief Keiji Tachikawa. He admits, KDDI is ahead, but only "if you call their technology 3G." Since AU is based on 1xRTT, it isn't technically 3G, but the perceived speed difference between 1xRTT and i-Mode, as well as its similarity to FOMA make it feel like 3G to users. For a company like DoCoMo who invest huge amounts of money into managing and maximizing user experience, this is rather a weak argument. We bet Tachikawa knows better. Now that the 900i FOMA handsets are doing rather well, it would have been refreshing to hear him admit it was the weak appeal of FOMA handsets and prices.