Softbank Wants To Enter Japan Mobile Fray
By Carlo Longino, Thu Jun 10 15:30:00 GMT 2004

Japanese Net company Softbank says it wants to enter the country's mobile market and provide some stiff competition to the incumbent carriers.

Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son told The Asahi Shimbun his company aims to do to the mobile market what it did with Yahoo! Broadband in Japan -- aggressively enter at cut-rate prices and quickly gain large market share.

Son wants Softbank to be up and running by the time number portability is introduced, expected to be in 2006. Softbank recently purchased fixed-line provider Japan Telecom, primarily to enhance its list of corporate broadband customers, but can also use the fixed network as a launching pad for a mobile service. Son says Softbank will start preparations as soon as Japan's telecommunications ministry grants it a 3G license -- though two other companies are reportedly interested in licenses as well.

Starting number portability and introducing another competitor could start a major shakeup of the Japanese market, and that's what Son, sometimes referred to as the Bill Gates of Japan, is hoping for. "The level of cell phone charges, expensive by international standards, will surely fall if we are allowed in," he says. "Japan's broadband telecommunications services became the cheapest and fastest in the world after we began our ADSL business. We are determined to light a fire under the three existing carriers, so they will review their tariffs and services."

An entry by a strong competitor could have a major effect in Japan. Market leader NTT DoCoMo is regaining some momentum after its bungled 3G launch and significant gains by second-placed KDDI. Vodafone Japan is really hurting as well, and would come under serious pressure from any new entrant.