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DoCoMo issues recall of new videophone

The leader in 3G wireless service yanks 1,500 units after discovering a software glitch that wipes out most of the data stored inside the handset.

NTT DoCoMo issued a recall and halted sales of its new videophone on Monday after discovering a software glitch that wipes out most of the data stored inside the handset.

The company recalled about 1,500 of its FOMA N2002 handsets made by the NEC Corporation. The phone went on sale last week in Japan to coincide with the launch of NTT DoCoMo's I-motion service, which lets subscribers view 10- to 15-second videos supplied by companies such as Sony Music Entertainment and See special report: Wake-up call Fuji Television. The recalled phone is the only one NTT DoCoMo sold that was capable of getting the videos.

The NTT DoCoMo Web site said data is lost when the handset accesses Web sites "incorporating certain site-construction specifications." The site didn't elaborate on what triggered the glitch. A representative in the United States for Japan-based NEC Corporation had no comment. Calls to NTT DoCoMo headquarters in Tokyo were not immediately returned.

The Web site said that customers who use the phones to connect to these Web sites have their e-mail personal settings erased, as well as any incoming or outgoing calls. The ability to make a voice call isn't affected, the company said.

Last week, NEC announced plans to ship third-generation (3G) phones, such as the one recalled, to the European cell phone market by early next year when many of that continent's carriers plan to launch their next-generation phone services.

FOMA N2002

The glitch was widely noted because NTT DoCoMo is regarded as the leader in 3G wireless service, which operates at speeds six times faster than what's available elsewhere. Most other carriers, including those in the United States, are about a year behind NTT DoCoMo. NTT DoCoMo's position is "a good place to be," said Joe Laszlo, a wireless analyst with Jupiter Media Metrix. "They will learn from some of the mistakes. It's hard to deliver a perfect service from day one. Fortunately, to their credit, they caught it early--only about 1,500 units, and it was a relatively obvious glitch."

"NTT is really the guinea pig for 3G technology," said Alan Reiter, a wireless analyst with consultants Wireless Internet & Mobile Computing. "And guinea pigs sometimes get stuck. Let those who are without buggy software cast the first stone."

The glitch surfaces at a rather tough time for NTT DoCoMo. Earlier this month, the company posted a 50 percent drop in its net profit, pushing the once undefeatable wireless company into the loss column for the first time since 1994. It's also the latest in a number of handset recalls for the company.

NTT DoCoMo hopes to sign up about 150,000 people to the I-motion service by March 2002.

On Oct. 1, the company unveiled its much-anticipated high-speed telephone network after a 4-month delay. NTT DoCoMo claims it has the world's first 3G network capable of delivering data and voice at broadband speeds.