Mobile Access Services Get Clogged up

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2000

by Daniel Scuka

Are the providers of mobile Net access in Japan becoming victims of their own success? By the end of March there were more than 6.5 million subscribers accessing the Net via keitai (mobile phone), and service outages have started to dog several of the network operators. Last year, Net outages affected all the major operators, including DoCoMo, IDO/DDI, and the J-Phone Group.

At 11:40 a.m. on March 28, DoCoMo's blockbuster i-mode service experienced a three-hour Net-access outage in Tokyo due to server overload. Later that night, media coverage of the Tokyo outage apparently caused another outage in the Kyushu-Okinawa region, as hordes of users simultaneously tried to find out whether the malfunction had affected them. (Subscribers were still able to use voice service during the Net access outages.) "We're getting very rapid growth, and the usage per subscriber is increasing," explained Kenichi Enoki, managing director of DoCoMo's Gateway Business Department. "The [server] load was greater than we anticipated."

With such outages growing more common, the government has stepped in. On March 15, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications announced that it would launch an investigation into several recent interruptions on the DoCoMo and IDO networks. The MPT reports that seven outages occurred between late last year and early February 2000. In one case, IDO's EZaccess service was offline for nearly nine hours. One problem the MPT is looking at is the concentration of resources in Tokyo. With i-mode, Net access nationwide goes through a server in Tokyo. IDO has a Net switchboard center in Tokyo as well. Makes you wonder what would happen if an earthquake hit the capital. The MPT is urging service providers to geographically distribute their servers. DoCoMo, for its part, is setting up two additional i-mode centers, one in Yokohama and one in the Kansai area. It's also restraining sales and stopping advertising.

"We have to struggle with a shortage of spectrum, and [although] speed is important, [network] capacity is more important," says one senior industry official. Everyone is scared, he adds, about usage continuing to soar. Ecstatic, too, one would think.

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