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Japanese 3G phones get U.S. airing

Mobile phone giant NTT DoCoMo touts sophisticated Asian phones at CeBit in an effort to spur U.S. interest in high-speed wireless phone services.

NEW YORK--Japanese mobile phone giant NTT DoCoMo showed off sophisticated Asian phones at the CeBit trade show here, part of an effort to spur interest in high-speed wireless phone service.

NTT DoCoMo holds a 16 percent stake in AT&T Wireless, which has pledged to bring high-speed third-generation, or "3G," mobile phone technology to San Francisco, Seattle, Dallas and San Diego by Dec. 31, 2004. To help get the ball rolling in the United States, the Japanese company is showing mobile phones with features that can take advantage of 3G wireless.

"We want the American consumer to understand what 3G is," NTT DoCoMo spokeswoman Karen Lurker said.

NTT DoCoMo showed its 2102 series, which is comprised of one handset that's available in Asia now and two more that were announced on Monday. The cell phones--produced by a variety of manufacturers--feature not just a built-in digital camera, but also a videocamera. With one, teenagers could send video to parents in order to prove that they really are where they say they are. The newer models come with authentication.

AT&T Wireless will use the same services and 3G network as does NTT DoCoMo, Lurker said. The network uses technology that's based on wideband code-division multiple access (W-CDMA), an emerging cellular standard that triples network capacity without requiring an upgrade by carriers. The network standard is also known as the Universal Mobile Telecommunications System (UMTS).

"We're hoping it gets adopted by as many carriers as possible," which would lower equipment costs and make it easier for people to roam from one country to another, Lurker said.

AT&T Wireless scaled back its 3G debut plans in 2002. If the U.S. carrier doesn't build its 3G network on time, it will have to buy back the $6.2 billion stake that NTT DoCoMo took in the company.

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Even in Japan, current-generation 2G phones still are more popular than 3G handsets, Lurker said.

In the United States, coming high-speed cell phone networks compete with wireless technologies such as 802.11g, which work well with existing computers--but only over short distances.

Although cell phone technology and usage in Asia and Europe are widely recognized as leading that of North America, the gap is narrowing, a senior Vodafone executive said last week.