Softbank Likely To Get Its Spectrum Without Setting Anyone On Fire
By Mike Masnick, Sat Jun 04 00:15:00 GMT 2005

Softbank has been fighting hard to get acess to the Japanese mobile market -- and it looks like it may be working. The next questions is what the company will do with its spectrum, and how DoCoMo and KDDI will respond.

NTT DoCoMo, KDDI and Vodafone KK probably all breathed a sigh of relief last year when it looked like no spectrum would be offered to anyone other than incumbent providers. The main company clamoring for spectrum was Softbank -- who would clearly present a challenge for the existing mobile service providers. Softbank shook up the broadband world in Japan with its extraordinarily cheap YahooBB DSL offerings, and Softbank's CEO, Masayoshi Son, has a well-deserved reptuation for not doing things the way everyone else does. In his battle to offer broadband (which was being blocked by NTT at the time), Son at one point threatened to set himself on fire to highlight how serious he was.

When it came to mobile phone service, Son said he didn't think he needed to set himself on fire, but he clearly wasn't going to give up easily. Earlier this year, Softbank tried to backdoor its way into the mobile market by buying KDDI's cheap 2G Tu-Ka service, which KDDI was looking to get rid of, in order to focus on more lucrative 3G offerings.

After pressuring the government for nearly a year, it looks like Softbank is finally getting its way. Japanese regulators have said that they will allocate more spectrum for mobile service and will look for up to three new companies to use the spectrum to offer service. Softbank, obviously, will do everything possible to be one of those companies.

The real question, though, is what will Softbank do with the spectrum once it has it. DoCoMo certainly has the reputation of being one of the more innovative mobile operators out there, and KDDI has done an amazing job building up its 3G subscriber lists. It may not be that simple, then, for Softbank to offer something especially new or different. However, what's clear is that Softbank's experience with DSL taught it the value of making a "land grab" by lowering prices -- which should scare all of the other operators. Vodafone KK, in particular, should be terrified.

No matter what, having more competition in the Japanese market should only serve to push the creative offerings even further forward -- and the rest of the world may want to pay even more attention to what works in Japan. It seems likely that Softbank won't take long to make its initial plans clear, and that should make the Japanese market (saturated or not) much more exciting over the next few years.