Japan's J-phone Launches Java Cell Phones

J-phone, the mobile communications arm of Japan Telecom Co. Ltd, the country’s third-largest carrier, said today that it would introduce handsets using Java software by June 2001.

J-phone and its partner Vodafone Group Plc. made the announcement along with Sun Microsystems Inc. at a telecommunications conference in Hong Kong, and said that the measure would allow for easier development of more varied content for Internet services delivered over mobile phones.

Japan’s wireless carriers have been racing to develop their handsets to offer advanced services such as support for the Java programming language, which was developed by Sun.

“It is unlikely that we can introduce it in the first quarter of next year [January-March] so it will be in the second quarter [April-June],” said Kyoichiro Kouri, chief operating officer of J-Phone East Co. Ltd., the company’s biggest unit serving heavily populated Eastern Japan which includes Tokyo.

Java’s Versatility

Software written in Java can run under a variety of computer operating systems and boosts the range of content and features on Internet pages. It will be introduced in handsets offered by NTT DoCoMo Inc., Japan’s biggest wireless carrier, from January.

J-phone has 3.5 million subscribers browsing the Internet on its cellular phones through business card-sized screens. J-phone’s service is called “J-sky” and competes directly with NTT DoCoMo, which has more than 14 million users connected to the Web on its ‘i-mode’ Internet system.

“We would like to begin by offering entertainment services,” Kouri said in an interview, explaining that it would appeal to J-phone’s customer base with its relatively young users.

“But since their ability to spend money on wireless services is limited, we don’t expect average revenue per user to rise by that much.”

At the same time, Kouri said that J-phone was feeling increased pricing pressure from No. 2 wireless carrier DDI Corp, which is better known as KDDI and recently introduced steep discounts by slashing student rates in half.

Competition Heating Up

Japan’s three main wireless carriers, especially NTT DoCoMo, are looking to extend their technological lead in wireless communications.

NTT DoCoMo has been racing to forge partnerships overseas, such as its $9.8 billion deal to buy 16 percent of AT&T Wireless Group announced last Thursday.

J-phone is 54 percent owned by Japan Telecom, 20 percent by British Telecommunications Plc., and Vodafone holds the remaining 26 percent, but it has no intentions of offering its services overseas.

Parent Japan Telecom, in turn, is owned 15 percent each by BT and AT&T Corp.

J-phone, Vodafone, and Sun Micro said that the move was the first step in offering Java on Internet-based mobile phone systems worldwide.

Vodafone, however, declined to say when it would be able to do this.