Japan's largest mobile phone carrier will upgrade its wireless network to make its data transmission hundreds of times faster, enabling subscribers to watch high-quality video just as they can over fiber-optic cables.
NTT DoCoMo Inc. will begin testing the technology this year and could have the system deployed by 2010. DoCoMo spokesman Nobuo Hori would not discuss costs, but the Nikkei newspaper reported that spending on the project could reach $1.7 billion.
DoCoMo is billing the system as Super 3G — an upgrade to its existing third-generation "FOMA" technology, which is derived from the globally dominant GSM wireless standard, though not identical to the 3G technology used by most GSM carriers, known as UMTS.
Super 3G will have speeds of roughly 100 megabits per second, making it about 260 times faster than DoCoMo's existing 3G service, which tops out at around 384 kilobits per second, Hori said.
Although Super 3G is expected to be launched by 2010, it is not clear how many years it will operate. DoCoMo sees Super 3G as largely a transition toward fourth-generation systems, which rival telecom companies are rushing to develop to realize speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second, about 10 times faster than Super 3G, Hori said.
In advance of 4G, many carriers are deploying a speedier version of UMTS called HSDPA. South Korea's Samsung Electronics Co. has been favoring a rival transitional technology based on a standard called WiMAX.
Super 3G is expected to allow for quicker downloading of data, the smoother playback of video and a smaller delay when playing Internet games or sending messages.
"The new service will help realize high-quality content," Hori said.
Mobile phone carriers have been trying to roll out faster networks to tap the phones' growing capabilities and get subscribers to use the devices for more costly functions like music and video downloads or as electronic wallets.
But carriers have also been pressured to keep development costs down. Analysts say a bridge technology like Super 3G could eek better technology at a minimal cost because it is an incremental improvement rather than a complete overhaul.
The Nikkei said the cost of upgrading the network to Super 3G would be just a fraction of what DoCoMo spent to build the infrastructure for the current high-speed phones. The newspaper said the company would be able to save by piggybacking off the base stations, antennas and signal-processing equipment used by the current third-generation system.
"It's based on our current technology, so it doesn't require a drastic change," Hori told The Associated Press.
DoCoMo has spent more than $25 billion to install some 40,000 dedicated 3G base stations nationwide, a major factor in keeping cell phone charge rates high, the Nikkei said.
Actual services and content for Super 3G is still under development, but NEC Corp. will lead the development of handsets for the service and Fujitsu Ltd. will work on the base stations, Hori said.
DoCoMo has said it is working with the 3rd Generation Partnership Project, a telecommunications standards body, to make Super 3G an industry standard called Long Term Evolution.