iPhone and DoCoMo is a big deal in Japan

The likely introduction of the iPhone 5S and/or 5C by NTT DoCoMo is a hot topic in Japan.

KDDI au

NTT DoCoMo will finally take the plunge and carry the iPhone later this month -- so the Japanese media says. This has created quite a stir.

Japan's leading business daily, Nikkei -- where the No. 1 ranking story for readers on Friday was about the market reaction to the DoCoMo-iPhone news -- has run a series of stories trying to spell out the impact on Japan's largest carrier and the overall market.

One Friday headline asked how the "power structure" of the telecommunications market will change in Japan and pointed out that DoCoMo will have to make some uncomfortable adjustments, including a commitment to the large volume of units that Apple typically requests of carriers.

An oft-repeated theme is that DoCoMo is late to the game. Softbank, which began carrying the iPhone in 2008, has seen its market share expand on the back of Apple's phone. KDDI (au) picked up the iPhone in 2011.

So, to get new iPhone customers, DoCoMo may have to resort to more-aggressive incentive programs. Currently, DoCoMo's two top brands are Sony and Samsung.

Nikkei ran an illustrative graph of NTT DoCoMo's shrinking subscriber base. In 2003 it had 56.3 of the mobile phone market, and KDDI had 21.9 percent. "Others" had a combined 20.8 percent.

In March of this year, DoCoMo had 42 percent, KDDI 28.6 percent, and Softbank 29.4 percent, according to the newspaper. Note that Softbank's rise to prominence in the Japanese market is pegged to it being the exclusive provider of the iPhone until KDDI signed on in 2011.

And Yomiuri Shimbun, one of Japan's top dailies, ran a related story, showing that DoCoMo saw the number of new net subscribers go down in August compared to the month before.

On the front door of Asahi Shimbun, one Japan's largest national dailies, the No. 2 most-read story on Friday was about DoCoMo and the iPhone.

Ascii, a major Japanese tech site, on Friday ran a story making the point that NTT DoCoMo hasn't officially announced that it will sell the new iPhones -- which is true, as NTT DoCoMo states on its site.

Whatever happens, all the coverage and interest in Japan attests to the market impact the iPhone can have. A similar situation is happening in China, where that country's largest carrier, China Mobile, is expected to carry the iPhone (5C) for the first time.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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