NTT DoCoMo has announced its first dual-mode 3G and WLAN phone. It will be on sale from tomorrow, 16 November.

The N900iL handsets, made by NEC, will enable free calls and instant messaging over 802.11b WLANs that are part of corporate intranets, and standard cellular calls, at regular rates, on DoCoMo's WCDMA 3G network.

The handsets will be sold as a packaged service that includes servers and related equipment, and are designed for corporate use. A "minimum" package of five handsets and a single server will cost about ¥500,000 (£2,558) and a larger package of 300 handsets and about 20 servers will cost about ¥50 million (£250,000).

The system can be scaled up to include more handsets and servers. DoCoMo said it can also sell larger systems involving more than 1,000 phones and several dozens of servers.

The N900iL weighs about 120 grams and offers a continuous talk time of 140 minutes on WCDMA mode, about 160 minutes on the WLAN-supported VoIP mode, and about 90 minutes usage in video calling mode. The phone's main LCD is a 2.2 inch screen with QVGA (240 pixels by 320 pixels) resolution. The model has two cameras: a main CCD camera with one megapixel resolution, and an inner CCD camera with a 110,000 pixel resolution, said the company.

Users can set the phones to receive incoming calls via the 3G network only, the WLAN network only, or both networks in dual mode. The N900iL's browser can access schedules, Web mail and documents saved on intranet servers from both inside and outside the office, according to DoCoMo.

NEC is also providing servers and other network equipment for the system, but companies buying into the service will also have the choice of other server vendors, a spokesman said. "Those interested in the service can contact us and, basically DoCoMo chooses the best system for your company, and it depends on what your company needs," he said.

DoCoMo has not announced cost of the N900iL handset alone. However, an industry source who declined to be named said each handset cost about ¥50,000 to ¥60,000. Companies will also have to pay variable fees to DoCoMo for using the systems they buy, and the prices depend on the scale of the system, according to DoCoMo, which did not detail the costs.

Despite the growing number of WLAN hot spots in cafes, restaurants and public spaces in Japan, the handsets will be only be able to connect to the dedicated systems set up by DoCoMo. This is because calls made on other networks would be free and thus deprive DoCoMo of revenue.
However, DoCoMo is looking into the possibility of developing combination WLAN and W-CDMA mobile phones that could connect to hot spots, a spokesman said.