NTT DoCoMo has delayed an upgrade to its 3G network.

The company will test its HSDPA (high speed downlink packet access) network this year but will not roll out a commercial service before April, DoCoMo president Masao Nakamura said at the company's financial news conference in Tokyo.

HSDPA is an addition to the WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) 3G network and provides speeds of up to 14Mbit/s, compared to the maximum 384Kbit/s offered on WCDMA 3G networks.

In December 2003, then-president Keichi Tachikawa said the company intended to start HSDPA services in the first half of 2005. Last November, a DoCoMo spokesman said the company would launch the network in some metropolitan areas between this April and next March.

The delay is due to the fact that DoCoMo has yet to develop content for the new network, at least according to a company spokesman. "It's not the technology," he said. "There is no point in having the technology unless there is content."

The main reason for the delay is the reluctance of vendors to invest in making handsets that are compatible with the upgrade.

The technical standards for HSDPA were set last year and it is quite easy for operators to upgrade base stations by changing some chipsets, said Akiyoshi Ishiwata, principal analyst at Gartner in Tokyo.

However, the corresponding chips for handsets are big and difficult to put in phones and Japanese handset makers are worried about costs and quality control. Also vendors don't want to develop handsets until DoCoMo tells them what features and software it wants put in the phones, he said. "There is a lot of nervousness by vendors as well as the service-side not being clear."

DoCoMo has plenty of content and services that can be used on the new network, said Kirk Boodry, telecom analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in Tokyo. The delay in the availability of handsets echoes the problems that DoCoMo had when it first began its 3G services in 2001, he said.

Then, a combination of a lack of handsets and base stations forced DoCoMo to delay commercial launch from May until October. It wasn't until the beginning of 2004 that 3G handsets were competitive with the company's 2G phones in terms of battery life, weight, and price.

Handsets compatible with the new network may be several years from commercial readiness, Boodry said. "There is always a lag between the introduction of network technology and commercial shipments of handsets to take advantage of it."