A Global Standard

Back to Contents of Issue: May 2003

To discover how the system works, we talk to Larry Thompson, corporate officer and the man in charge of foreign customer sales and marketing.

by John Dodd

IT'S APRIL 15TH AND you're counting down the days before a well-earned break with the wife and kids in Europe for Golden Week. Suddenly the phone rings, and the boss breaks the bad news that you're overseeing a project for a major client -- every manager's nightmare.

There was a time when you'd have had to cancel the family trip and suffer the consequences. But this year, J-Phone and Vodafone have another solution -- true global roaming on your cellphone. Now you can eat a Big Mac on the Champs Elysees and get your messages and take urgent calls from the office. To discover how the system works, we talk to Larry Thompson, corporate officer and the man in charge of foreign customer sales and marketing.

JI: One of the big frustrations for foreign residents in Japan is dealing with cellphones. Not only is it hard to get English support in Japan, but also the mobile phone system here is basically incompatible with those used in most of the rest of the world.

LT: Yes, we at J-Phone are highly aware of this and we decided to make servicing the foreign market one of our main points of distinction. For this reason, we have developed a number of solutions that help foreign residents get mobile in English, as well as allowing overseas travelers to get mobile outside Japan with a single, low-cost, easy-to-use handset -- the Motorola V66.

International businesspeople need to stay in touch with "home," be that their Japan-based office or their family. Right now, the options for international roaming are either inconvenient or expensive -- like having to organize and rent a handset for each trip or having to buy multiple overseas handsets and maintain multiple accounts.

The Motorola V66 handset, on the other hand, is an ideal solution. This is a really great little unit that supports all the different GSM standards used overseas: namely the US standard, 1900Mhz, as well as the European and Asian standards of 900Mhz and 1800Mhz. Since there is no GSM network in Japan, unfortunately it doesn't work in Japan. [Ed: Or Korea].

JI: You mentioned that the V66 is inexpensive.

LT: Yes, the V66 is amazingly low-priced -- until May 31 this year it is only JPY4,800 to buy, and costs only JPY540 per month to maintain. [Ed: contracts run for one year.]This is like the cost of a cup of coffee each month -- so it's a very good value, without requiring the user to commit to a totally new technology. We set up the user so that any activity on these handsets is charged back to the user's Japan account.

JI: OK, so the V66 looks like a good value for the upfront price, but aren't global cellphone roaming tariffs expensive?

LT: Normally they would be expensive, but as a company we've made a commitment to bringing superior value to the customer, and a price check of our tariff table would show that we're up to 57 percent cheaper than our competitors. In fact, making calls on our cellphone network will often work out to be cheaper than dialing a number through a hotel PBX. Furthermore, we make receiving SMS messages, which can be delivered on a store-and-forward basis, totally free of charge.

"We are committed to supporting
both foreign users living in Japan,
visitors to Japan, and Japanese
traveling overseas"

This is possible because J-Phone and Vodafone have a global network where we own a lot of our own infrastructure -- and in countries where we don't have infrastructure, we have roaming partners. [Ed: As of April 2003, J-Phone/Vodafone offered access in over 60 countries.] Although it may be global, our network is smart enough to track and connect to your phone number wherever you are, just as if you were at work in Tokyo. We give you a standard Japanese "090" or "080" number, so that people in Japan calling you on a beach on the Riviera won't know you're not wearing a suit and tie until they start hearing the waves in the background.

JI: Does the Motorola V66 have any special security features for travelers?

LT: Actually, all our phones come with pretty decent security as a standard feature. This includes PIN protection, user-defined security blocks, and owner ID authentication.

JI: We've heard a bit about the J-Phone USIM smart cards. As we understand it, these smart cards allow you to move your account and data between physical handsets, even in different countries.

LT: Yes, J-Phone and Vodafone have a global standard built around the USIM (Universal Subscriber Identity Module) smart card. You can actually swap USIMs from a Japanese phone and put them into a unit purchased overseas, for use in the country of purchase. Thus, your account and phone data follows you around. This is a new concept in Japan, so while it's possible to do, some customers may find it easier to buy the V66 which also uses the USIM smart card.

JI: Earlier you mentioned that J-Phone is committed to servicing the foreign market. What are you doing to help the foreign user? We need at least one of the cellphone companies to look after us!

LT: We are committed to supporting both foreign users living in Japan, visitors to Japan, and Japanese traveling overseas. Indeed, servicing the international customer is the mission of my division. You have over 1.5 million foreigners living in Japan, over 4-plus million in-bound tourists and 16 to 17 million outbound ones -- so this is a very worthwhile market space. The opportunity here is quite simply to leverage our global presence and network -- no one else offers this kind of coverage.

Another sign of our commitment to the foreign user is the way we've overcome the language barrier. We have bilingual handsets on sale, bilingual staff in the call center to handle sales and technical requests from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and in both Tokyo and Yokohama, we have Vodafone shops with native English-speaking staff who can personally help select the best plan and handset for your needs.

JI: Where can people get more information and arrange to see the Motorola V66 in action?

LT: They can call our call center, visit the Web site, or visit a J-Phone Shop.

JI: And you have stock now?

LT: Yes, with Golden Week coming up, we're all set to help people keep their business responsibilities ticking while still being able to take some family time out. @

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