Global Divide

NTT DoCoMo started its trial of third-generation wireless services in Japan two weeks ago.

NTT DoCoMo started its trial of third-generation wireless services in Japan two weeks ago. After receiving nearly 150,000 applications from people hoping for a chance to test the service, the company selected 4,500 lucky users.

NTT DoCoMo originally anticipated signing up 150,000 paying customers by March of next year. Judging from the number of requests to test the service, users will probably be clamoring to sign up when its commercially available, which NTT DoCoMo execs now say wont be for another three years.

The high anticipation is great news for NTT DoCoMo. But U.S. service providers should stop salivating. The U.S. has had packet data services comparable to NTT DoCoMos i-mode service available for more than five years. AT&T Wireless and Verizon Wireless have operated Cellular Digital Packet Data networks since the mid-90s, mostly pitching services to business users. AT&T Wireless boasts only about 600,000 CDPD users.

Yet CDPD offers more than i-mode, delivering 19.2-kilobit-per-second transmission vs. i-modes paltry 9.6 Kbps. Despite CDPDs superior performance, service providers have neglected the standard in favor of next-generation technologies. Granted, those technologies will enable operators to accommodate more users and more volume than CDPD can. But NTT DoCoMo introduced i-mode on a network known to be nearly full to the brim.

The U.S. has other circuit-switched wireless data offerings available, such as Sprint PCS Wireless Web, that are less user-friendly than packet services. If Sprint PCS and the CDPD offerings arent drawing hordes of people, why should next-generation services?

I-mode frenzy is a phenomenon specific to Japans gadget- and technology-loving populace. Americans might get excited by some other wireless data offerings, but nothing out there yet seems promising.