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Wireless snag may save Sprint, others

Japan's top mobile carrier delays its high-speed phone network by four months, a move that analysts believe will help U.S. carriers win the race to offer "3G" phone networks first.

NTT DoCoMo won't introduce its high-speed wireless phone network until October, a four-month delay that analysts believe will help U.S. carriers win the race to offer so-called 3G phone networks first.

The delay by DoCoMo was announced late Tuesday. The Japanese carrier has gained a reputation as the leader in the next generation of phone service largely based on its plans to introduce a new network of see special report: Wake-up call high-speed telephone services, capable of receiving both voice calls and data at broadband speeds, by May of this year.

But in recent months, the company has acknowledged it's encountering problems with its network. Last month, it announced it would offer the service to about 150,000 of its 20 million customers. Late Tuesday, however, the company said it had decided to spend the next four months ironing out the bugs, rather than risk launching a service too soon.

Though the United States has long been viewed as lagging behind in the race to launch the third generation of phone service, analysts now think it's in the pole position.

"Depending on how you characterize it, the U.S. will effectively execute a coup d'etat and suddenly emerge on the global scene as the leader in 3G," said Dataquest analyst Bryan Prohm.

Instead of a May launch, NTT DoCoMo will start a trial service for about 3,000 of its more than 20 million subscribers in October, according to a company spokeswoman.

Analysts say the delay casts even more doubt about when the telecommunications industry will actually introduce the new service and start recouping the billions of dollars spent to build the networks.

NTT DoCoMo and AT&T Wireless, which are jointly developing AT&T's third-generation service, have not said when the service would be ready for consumers, but a setback in DoCoMo's home territory may also push back its expansion plans to territories such as the United States.

Other carriers will reap the benefits, however. Verizon Wireless and Sprint, two U.S. carriers, have been quietly forging deals, building networks and testing them. Verizon spokesman Jim Gerace said Verizon is still on target to launch what it considers a third-generation network by the fourth quarter of this year. Sprint has said in the past it is also on track for a similarly timed launch.

Dataquest's Prohm said being first has two advantages. For one, launching a network means being able to start charging customers for it, and at the same time begin to recoup the dollars spent to build the networks.

But it also lets U.S. carriers become the technological leaders. These carriers will be the first to learn of any of the problems that couldn't be identified in the labs, such as problems with the equipment that companies like Nokia and Qualcomm have been peddling worldwide to telephone carriers.

In related news, U.S.-based wireless software maker ThinAirApps said it has partnered with Arriya Solutions to offer a way for some DoCoMo subscribers to access e-mail and other applications from any device.

The software will be available in the next two weeks for a download to users of I-mode phones, which work on the NTT DoCoMo system, according to a ThinAirApps spokesman.

The deal is significant because it pries open the closed set of software applications that users of the I-mode service have been subjected to, a ThinAirApps spokesman said.