NTT DoCoMo will lead the way with an advanced version of 3G mobile technology, dubbed Super 3G, a company spokesman has claimed.
The push towards the new technology was announced last month by the 3G Partnership Project (3GPP), a consortium of 26 wireless vendors and operators. Alcatel, Cingular Lucent, Motorola, NEC, Nokia and Vodafone, as well as DoCoMo, all signed an agreement to work on the new standard, provisionally called Super 3G. It should be finalised by the end of 2006.
Super 3G is a defensive measure against the increasing speeds of other wireless technologies such as WLAN and the long-range WiMax standard. And DoCoMo claims it will spearhead the effort with a low-cost upgrade to the company's current 3G WCDMA network that will offer 100Mbit/s downlink and 50Mbit/s uplink. It will be rolled out in metropolitan areas initially and be operational by 2008, said DoCoMo spokesman Takumi Suzuki.
The company will not need to replace much equipment to improve the network, which can be completed more easily than the company's 3G network, he said. "We needed three years to get our 3G network running, but this network will take a much shorter time. We are targeting the 2007 to 2010 period," he said.
Getting such a network running so quickly will probably prove difficult, said Kirk Boodry, telecom analyst with Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein. DoCoMo will have spent about ¥1.8 trillion (£9.5 billion) between 2000 and 2005 building its 3G network, Broody said. "With the upgrade, it's mainly software and it's not going to cost anywhere near a trillion yen, but the deployment time frame looks a bit optimistic," he said.
Mobile carriers and handset vendors are keen to promote Super 3G because they see the increasing provision of high-speed WLAN as a threat to their business models, said Nahoko Mitsuyama, a principal analyst at Gartner Japan.
Mobile carriers rely on packet data transmission fees from 3G networks, Mitsuyama said. Public WLAN services, which are booming in popularity, charge flat rates. Meanwhile, 3G data transmission speeds, touted as a sales point by mobile carriers, appear slow in comparison with 802.11g, which can provide speeds up to 54Mbit/s.
"The lucrative part about 3G is fees from packets, but WLANs can provide much higher data rates at a flat price. And WiMax is a big threat to cellular operators," Mitsuyama said.