by CIO Staff

NTT DoCoMo to Launch Satellite Radio Cell Phone

Mar 30, 20063 mins
MobileSmall and Medium Business

NTT DoCoMo will launch in early April a cell phone with a built-in satellite radio receiver, it said Wednesday.

The Music Porter X handset from Japan’s Mitsubishi Electric is compatible with a multichannel radio service that’s been available in Japan since late 2004 but which has attracted a relatively small number of subscribers. The service operator, Mobile Broadcasting (MBCO), believes the new phone handset could mark a turning point in its fortunes and switch on a larger number of people to its service.

The phone will be launched on April 8 and is the latest in a line of phones from NTT DoCoMo that attempts to more faithfully integrate mobile music player functions into a handset. Users will be able to load MP3 and ATRAC format files into the phone’s 1GB memory and tune in to FM radio, in addition to accessing the satellite radio service. A 15-channel package of programming will be offered to users independent of cell phone service for 980 yen (US$8.30) per month, NTT DoCoMo said.

That’s a cut-down offering from MBCO’s full 37-channel audio service and is designed to appeal to people in their 20s and 30s, said Akira Kato, a spokesman for MBCO in Tokyo. MBCO also offers a multichannel video service, although the cell phone can’t receive those programs.

“We’ve been wanting to integrate our service into a cell phone for some time,” he said. However, to do so, the company had to convince a carrier that its service was powerful and attractive enough to be built into a cell phone because, unlike in many countries, in Japan the cell phone carriers control many of the features put into handsets.

“Everyone carries a cell phone and these days another device, like an iPod,” he said. “Until now, our service has required a dedicated unit, and people resisted buying another device that they would have to carry around.”

With the inclusion of the service into a phone, MBCO hopes it will be able to increase its subscriptions, said Kato. MBCO hasn’t released precise subscriber details, although Kato said it had a “few tens of thousands” of users. In contrast, a similar service offered in South Korea by TU Media, which is based on the same technical platform and comes from the same satellite as MBCO’s service, has attracted several hundred thousand subscribers since it launched in 2005.

Kato put the success of the TU Media service down to its quick integration into cell phone handsets thanks to the backing of shareholder SK Telecom, which is a major South Korean cell phone carrier.

The Music Porter X will go on sale in Japan on April 8 and will cost between 40,000 and 45,000 yen, said NTT DoCoMo. It measures 109 by 50 by 24 millimeters and weighs 136 grams. Talk-time is 170 minutes, and the battery should provide about 20 hours of music playback or six hours of satellite radio reception, said NTT DoCoMo.

-Martyn Williams, IDG News Service

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