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(Nikkei BP Group)

(No.1 High-Tech News Site in Japanese)

  • Japan’s Common Carriers Accelerating Moves to Implement IMT-2000
  • March 8, 1999 (TOKYO) — Japan’s common carriers are accelerating their programs for implementing the International Mobile Telecommunication-2000 (IMT-2000) next-generation mobile communications system.
    The new service will feature wireless communication speeds of up to 2Mbps.

    IMT-2000-based services are expected to start in the spring of 2001. Several domestic service providers are testing IMT-2000 equipment to prepare for commercial services.

    Various mobile communications operators, including NTT Mobile Communications Network Inc. (NTT DoCoMo), are ready to procure commercial systems.

    The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) is finalizing the IMT-2000 standardization program. However, a patent dispute is still not resolved among European and U.S. makers. This may influence standardizing progress and will likely impact the launch schedule for commercial services, industry watchers said.

    Industry experts will closely monitor the ITU’s meeting in Brazil set for March 8-19.

    The code division multiple access (CDMA) technology, the core part of the IMT-2000 system, poses an issue of intellectual property rights. Ericsson of Sweden and Qualcomm Inc. of the United States hold numerous patents on the technology and are in dispute over some patents. Unless the two companies reach a compromise before the ITU’s upcoming meeting, the launch of commercial services could be impacted.

    Players on Board for Domestic Service

    “We want to make large deliveries of our terminals (mobile stations) and base stations,” said Masaki Akiyama, senior managing director (communication systems division) at Matsushita Communication Industrial Co., Ltd. Akiyama also is a member of the board.

    Equipment makers are highly interested in sales of the required commercial systems to service operators, because the IMT-2000 market is expected to grow into a very large market.

    In Japan, preparations for commercial services are in progress.

    The Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications is limiting the number of service operators to three due to frequency-related restrictions. The three groups appear to be (1) NTT DoCoMo, (2) IMT-2000 Planning Co., Ltd., and (3) an alliance of DDI Cellular Group and IDO Corp.

    ITM-2000 Planning was established on Nov. 30, 1998 as a preparatory company by Japan Telecom Co., Ltd., Nissan Motor Co., Ltd. and AirTouch Communications Inc. of the United States (which is slated to merge with U.K.-based VodaFone Group Plc). It will be converted to a full business enterprise as soon as the preparations are completed.

    KDD Corp. is not yet sure if it will collaborate with one of the three groups in the ITM-2000 arena. However, it will not participate in the business alone, said Fumio Watanabe, vice president and managing director of the mobile communications laboratory at KDD R&D; Laboratories Inc.

    Because Toyota Motor Corp. is a shareholder of both KDD and IDO, KDD is closest to the third group.

    Tests in Progress

    Companies that hope to operate commercial ITM-2000 services are conducting experiments in cooperation with equipment makers.

    The objective of such tests is to help standardization groups advance their standardizing work through reporting test results. The most important objective is accumulating relevant know-how for commercial systems.

    “Even if service operators utilize the same communications method and the same equipment, they will obtain different results in terms of user capacity and ease of use,” said KDD’s Watanabe.

    CDMA-based services are relatively new. Such services started in Japan only last year.

    The “hand-off” function for IMT-2000 needs to be thoroughly tested by each service operator to determine how call quality can be optimized.

    Equipment Procurement Started

    NTT DoCoMo was the first to start IMT-2000 equipment testing. It has begun procuring equipment for the commercial service.

    In mid-January, the company announced details of its procurement plan, and in late January, it invited about 150 experts to an IMT-2000 meeting in Tokyo.

    “The start time of commercial IMT-2000 service is set for 2001. For this reason, we must conduct extensive tests on system configuration as well as tests for actual commercial service,” said Koji Ono, executive engineer at NTT DoCoMo’s radio network development department.

    Other groups also are beginning to procure equipment. For example, IMT-2000 Planning “intends to receive proposals from equipment producers by the spring of 1999 and to make final decisions by the summer,” said Yukimaru Matsuya, manager of Japan Telecom’s IMT-2000 Project (information and communication laboratory).

    Japan, U.S., Korea, Europe Organizations Formed

    Two standardization organizations called 3rd Generation Partners Program (3GPP) and 3GPP2 were established to draw up the standard specifications required for equipment procurement as well as to accelerate the standardization work.

    They are the organizations formed by national and regional private standardization groups based on a proposal of the European Telecommunications Standard Institute (ETSI). In addition to ETSI, other groups that are joining include the Association of Radio Industries and Businesses (ARIB) and the Telecommunication Technology Committee (TTC) both based in Japan, the U.S. T1 Committee based in the United States, and the Korea Telecommunication Technology Association (TTA).

    A major concern is whether the wireless interface will be standardized. For the wireless section, the 3GPP is developing the standard based on W-CDMA recommended by Ericsson, and the 3GPP2 is developing the standard based on cdma2000 recommended by Qualcomm.

    There’s no function to adjust between 3GPP and 3GPP2, and only the ITU-R is responsible for coordinating the two methods. Hence, the ITU’s mid-March meeting is attracting a great deal of attention.

    The conclusion will affect equipment manufacturing, and the producers are anxious about the development. Under such circumstances, NTT DoCoMo stated that it will closely follow the course of the standardization.

    (Nikkei Electronics)

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