The whole wireless world watched this week as NTT DoCoMo introduced the first third-generation cell phone network, but it seems clear that it will be a while before such a network hits the United States.
The service, dubbed "FOMA" (freedom of multimedia access), is based on wideband CDMA and is available within a 30-kilometer radius of Tokyo. It promises download speeds of 384K bps and upstream speeds of 64K bps, according to company officials in Tokyo.
The service costs about 10,000 yen, or $84, per month in Tokyo.
The video phone that takes advantage of the service, The FOMA P2101V, costs about $500. Only a limited number of these were manufactured, and they sold out of retail outlets by the end of the first day the service was available. DoCoMo reported that 4,000 3G handsets were sold on the first day, including 1,600 of the video phones.
The 3G service is due in England next year, but DoCoMo officials did not say when it will be available in the United States; the company owns part of AT&T Wireless and the two companies have announced that they will offer services together at some point.
Meanwhile, U.S. companies are struggling with several wireless woes: trying to secure more radio spectrum from the Federal Communications Commission in a time when the government is more sympathetic to the needs of the Defense Department than to the needs of commercial carriers; dealing with the fact that handset sales are diminishing; and trying to get their 2.5G services going, let alone 3G.
"Securing spectrum isnt something that your average IT person would lose sleep over," said Eric Berman, a technical consultant at Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee and an eWEEK Corporate Partner. "Few people care about what spectrum is used and who is the winner and who is the loser … but any of these things that prevent us from the advanced things that wed like to do [is] a problem."
At this point, though, customers in the United States are still waiting for the "2.5G" GPRS – the "always on" voice and data services that are supposed to be rolling out this year and the next.