Just over 22 years after it first started providing cellular telephone services, NTT DoCoMo subscriptions have passed the 40 million mark, the carrier said Friday.
The carrier, one of the world's largest cellular operators, has a 59.3 per cent share of Japan's mobile market, according to data from the Telecommunications Carriers Association (TCA).
While passing the 40 million mark is significant for the carrier, it also serves to highlight the declining rate at which NTT DoCoMo and its rivals are able to sign up new subscribers. To make the jump from 35 million to 40 million took DoCoMo 1 year. Compare that with the 9 months it took to jump from 30 million to 35 million and the problem becomes apparent.
Japan's four major cellular carriers made a net gain of 435,000 subscribers in January, according to the TCA. They gained 562,000 subscribers in October 2001, 790,000 in July 2001 and 1.1 million in April 2001.
The slowdown has been fast but was not unforeseen. As more and more people got cellular telephones, the market moved closer to saturation and the number of potential new subscribers dropped. That means DoCoMo and its competitors have had to turn to new revenue sources to ensure continued financial growth.
In February 1999 a major new revenue source appeared in the form of I-mode, DoCoMo's wireless Internet service. DoCoMo doesn't break out total revenue from the I-mode service but, in the six months to the end of September 2001, revenue from packet communication, which is largely from I-mode use, totaled ¥337 billion (US$2.8 billion) -- approximately 13 per cent of all revenue from its mobile-phone business.
Beyond I-mode, the company's next big hope is 3G (third-generation) wireless services. However, they have received only a lukewarm reaction from the Japanese public.
NTT DoCoMo became the first carrier to launch 3G services when it switched on a W-CDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) network in Tokyo in October 2001.
At the time, company president Keiji Tachikawa confidently predicted the service, branded Foma, would have 150,000 users by the end of March this year, although with subscriptions at 47,800 as of February 13, his goal is a long way off.