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Japan’s Big Three – NTT DoCoMo

by Ron Duwell | November 10, 2013November 10, 2013 1:00 pm PDT

We have Softbank Mobile and au by KDDI all wrapped up and finished in our Japan’s Big Three series, so now it’s time to make the largest jump and take a closer look at NTT DoCoMo, the largest and unquestionably most powerful of the three.

NTT DoCoMo is the Godzilla of the bunch, enormous and indestructible. With 63 million subscribers worldwide, it has roughly half the country wrapped up under its belt, and even fleeing customers looking for usage of the iPhone have barely put a dent in its influence.

How did a phone company land one half of it country’s market space while still being the most expensive of the three? Reliable service in every corner of the country, the widest selection of flagship Android phones, and the backing of the Japanese government have helped quite a bit.

Foundation

The Last Samurai

Much like KDDI, the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT) can trace its roots to a war-torn Japan slowly recovering from the horrors of the preceding decade. However, whereas as KDDI emerged as a communications company in the ruins of World War II, NTT extends further into Japanese history to a time of great change after the Meiji Revolution occurred in the 1860’s.

Shortly after the new government under Emperor Meiji defeated the Tokugawa Shogunate and relocated the capital to Tokyo in 1868, Japan and its government had set its eyes on becoming a world power likened to the Europeans and Americans. Among the new fashions and industries introduced to Japan was the telegraph, first introduced and put into place by a new branch of the government in 1869.

This branch ran telegraphs throughout the country and would put that communication experience to work when it eventually became the NTT Corporation.

To put this in perspective, NTT first became an entity at a time when Japan was still quelling samurai rebellions and uprisings throughout the country.

Telecommunications

NTT Establishment

Japanese history continued through the decades with the Meiji government bringing Japan onto the world scene, the Taisho era of democracy, its own Industrial Revolution, and both World Wars, where Japan emerged victorious in one and defeated at the other.

In 1952, the Japanese government had weathered the worst of its recovery after World War II and decided to re-enter the world of telecommunications and launched the Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation (NTT). With few other competitors at the time, the government was able to wrap up much of the telecommunications industry under a monopoly for the next 30 years.

The Nippon Telegraph and Telephone Corporation became a private company in 1985 when the government finally deregulated the telecommunications industry, and it first popped up on the Tokyo Stock Exchange in 1988. To avoid looking like a monopoly, it has split itself into NTT East and NTT West, but still controlled much of the landlines throughout the country.

Many of NTT’s phone booths, known for their green telephones, have been vanishing in recent years due to the obvious rise in mobile phone popularity, but it is not totally uncommon to run into one on the streets near a station or a convenience store.

NTT DoCoMo

NTT DoCoMo

Its mobile branch, now known as NTT DoCoMo, began as the NTT Mobile Communications Network, Inc. and took much of the mobile responsibilities off its parent company’s hands. Despite being an independent corporation, NTT DoCoMo remained a subsidiary of the Japanese government, which owns a 33.7 percent share of the company.

NTT DoCoMo launched its first mova 2G (800 MHz) digital service the following year in 1993 and held firm as the largest telecommunications company in Japan into 2001 when it launched its 3G FOMA service.

DoCoMo has spread to three continents, having stock exchanges in New York City and London, making it the largest telecommunications company in the world in terms of revenue. Overseas investments have proven to be ill-fated, showing for a grand total loss of roughly $10 billion on companies like AT&T. However, its operation in Japan has been more than profitable and has made up for the losses.

Its 63 million customers have made it ranked number 29 on the Fortune Global 500.

Losing Subscribers

NTT DoCoMo van

Despite its dominance over its home country, laws and regulations have made it difficult for DoCoMo to retain its vast user base. The biggest blow to the company came in 2006 when the government passed a law to aid DoCoMo, which forced providers to allow customers to keep their phone numbers when changing to a rival’s plan.

The plan had the opposite effect as what the government had anticipated. KDDI and SoftBank changed strategies to offer better prices, luring customers away from DoCoMo.

DoCoMo iPhone

The other obvious reason for customers fleeing the giant in recent years had been because NTT DoCoMo refrained from supporting the iPhone, which is vastly popular in Japan as seen in the sales through SoftBank and KDDI.

For many years, NTT DoCoMo had held out on Apple’s licensing policies, instead securing exclusivity to as many high-end Android phones as possible. Not to mention, many local Japanese smartphone developers like Kyocera, Fujitsu, Sharp, and Toshiba all depend of DoCoMo’s expansive user base to remain in the business. Sony has been the only Japanese phone developer to find success on a global scale.

The iPhone encroaching on these companies turf could possibly wipe out Japanese smartphone development, a risk the Japanese government understands.

However, the loss of subscribers looking to buy an iPhone could not be ignored forever. NTT DoCoMo launched the iPhone 5s and 5c in Japan for the first time in 2013, the last major Asian provider to do so.

Shortly before the official reveal, Panasonic announced it was bowing out of the smartphone race. This winter marks the first time no Panasonic Eluga phones will be for sale. Who knows if the two news stories are related.

Everywhere

Docomo Map

DoCoMo officially stands for “do communications over the mobile network” or so the company claims. The word “dokomo” in Japanese also means “everywhere,” which is the best way to describe the company’s service.

In addition to launching one of the world’s first LTE service, Xi (crossy), NTT DoCoMo extends to nearly 98 percent of the country with very little of Japan’s islands lying beyond its reach. Rest assured that if signal is the largest concern when looking for a phone service, DoCoMo is a sure fire way to guarantee a connection.

Docomodake

Docomodate

Much like every other company in Japan, including rival SoftBank, DoCoMo has a cute mascot instantly identifiable with his creators. Docomodake is a mushroom, obviously, and as a mushroom he is supposed to be eaten. Many recipes exist out there for how to prepare him and serve him to DoCoMo customers.

Don’t expect NTT DoCoMo to miss out on the video game scene either. Not unlike the 7-Up Spot, Chester Cheetah and the Yo-Noid, Docomodake has also appeared in his own licensed video game, Boing! Docomodake DS, which was first released in Japan in 2007. Fans of the Mario vs Donkey Kong puzzle series will find themselves at home thanks to the game’s polished stages and easy puzzle solving mechanics.

DCMDK_DS_US_CVS_TMP

Importers need not bother to look to Japan for a copy tough because the mascot made his official landing in America in 2009 when Ignition Entertainment published the title to rather impressive scores for a game which is ultimately a commercial. It currently holds an even 74 percent over at Gamerankings.com. Not too bad if you ask me.

Developer Suzak would eventually go on to make Wario: Master of Disguise, for better or worse.

Disney, Hatsune-Miku, Dragon Quest and Ken Watanabe

Disney DoCoMo

Beyond its own mascot, NTT DoCoMo has also turned to other pools of mascots to help advertise its service, the most recognizable being Disney. In fact, the provider supports its own exclusive 2.2GHz “Disney Mobile” phone made by Fujitsu. Its customized Android interface makes all of your Disney needs available at the touch of a button.

Video game advertisements also score huge with NTT DoCoMo. Virtual pop-star Hatsune-Miku, the star of SEGA’s Project Diva series, and the eternally popular Dragon Quest series both have their own models lined up and ready for a winter release. SoftBank already has Pokemon snagged up under a contract, so DoCoMo missed out on a Pokemon phone to match the launch of Pokemon X and Y.

Watanabe Ken DoCoMo

For celebrity appearances, NTT DoCoMo has enlisted the aid of Ken Watanabe, one of Hollywood’s few bankable stars to come from the country. His face gives it both recognition at home and abroad.

Watanabe is best known for his towering height of 184 cm and tough guy attitude, bringing a “strong” image to DoCoMo phones. It seems to fit given the impressive hardware NTT DoCoMo sports.

Available Phones

DoCoMo Line-up

Because it held out on getting the iPhone for so long, NTT DoCoMo holds the most respectable catalog of exclusive Android phones, including many flagship phones.

Latest 4G Smartphones:

  • Samsung Galaxy J
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 3
  • Sony Xperia Z1
  • Sony Xperia Z1f
  • LG G2
  • Sharp Aquos Phone si
  • Sharp Aquos Phone EX
  • Sharp Dragon Quest
  • Fujitsu Disney Mobile

Other 4G Options:

  • Sony Xperia feat. Hatsune-Miku
  • Samsung Galaxy S4
  • Sharp Aquos Phone Zeta
  • Sony Xperia A
  • Fujitsu Arrows NX

Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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