Wireless Notebook

Back to Contents of Issue: June 2002

Daniel Scuka rounds up the latest in the world of wireless

by Daniel Scuka

Won't Someone Toss KDDI a Bone?
The hapless CDMA operator can't seem to get a break. This past March was a bad month for KDDI and its flagship au brand (which offers voice services on both 2G Personal Digital Cellular and 2G cdmaOne networks). Bad enough that the carrier's EZweb wireless Internet service had already yielded second place (after NTT DoCoMo's i-mode, of course) to J-Phone's J-Sky back in the fall of 2001. But when March voice subscriber numbers came out, KDDI/au had also given up the overall No. 2 slot to J-Phone -- 12,214,300 versus 12,232,000. Ouch!

What we can't figure out is: What's the problem? KDDI/au offers crystal-clear voice quality on the cdmaOne system, 64Kbps data for EZweb Net surfing (and for ISP access when the handset is used as a modem), and EZweb content (including EZmovie and the EZplus GPS navigation service) is as good if not better than anything on i-mode or J-Sky.

On April 1, the carrier opened its cdma2000 1x 3G system, offering 144Kbps (nominal) data speeds, a camera phone and a phone with a 40-voice polyphonic sound chip. These features, too, are as good as anything on the competing networks and KDDI will achieve nationwide coverage with 3G sooner than DoCoMo or J-Phone. If anything, au should be gaining subscribers faster than anyone else.

Koichi Endo, sales staff member at a suburban Tokyo au shop, says that the cdma2000 1x 3G handsets are "selling well" -- and that customers are asking for them despite the higher prices. The 3G models, by Sanyo, Kyocera and Casio were selling in his shop for JPY9,800, JPY8,800, and JPY14,800, respectively, as of mid-April. "A lot of customers are asking for the new models," says Endo. "Even the foreigners are asking, too, because the Sanyo handset has bilingual display capability."

au 3G Handset Lineup -- As Cool as FOMA and a Lot Cheaper
Like all of KDDI's 3G handsets, the A3011SA by Sanyo surfs at 144Kbps and additionally has a 65,536-color, 2.1in FT display (132 x 176 dots), 1.5MB of onboard memory, JBlend Java by Applix and has a Qualcomm GPS receiver built-in so you won't get lost. It retails for around JPY9,800, and can be fitted with a PashaPa2 CCD camera accessory.

The Casio A3012CA has an ultra-cool 262,144-color Crystal Fine 2in display (132 x 176 dots) that is 6-times zoomable when viewing JPEG-format images, a 350,000-pixel CMOS camera built-in, JBlend Java by Applix and a Qualcomm GPS receiver. It is available in your choice of white or blue finish and comes bundled with data sync software so that you can backup the phonebook and email address contacts to your PC.

Kyocera's A1012K comes in three hyper-cool metallic colors (silver, blue and lime), is just 20 millimeters thick and boasts a beveled-edge design that the Shibuya crowd will die for. The screen (65,536-color, TFT LCD) has a zoomable display that will enlarge text from 24 lines to 12 lines (in case some bleary-eyed, 30-something journo gets a hold of one, I guess) and offers 220 hours of standby time.

Money Talks
Despite the customer interest in 3G, Endo and his fellow sales staffers take the fall to third place in the subscriber race seriously, and they are fighting back tooth and nail. Despite costing as little as JPY0.3 per 128 bytes (64 Japanese characters) on NTT DoCoMo's 2G i-mode system, the actual cost for mobile email (which represents over 50 percent of mobile Internet usage in Japan) varies greatly from carrier to carrier. The staff at Endo's shop hashed together a quick chart comparing the cost of sending email on the three major carriers and -- surprise, surprise -- KDDI is cheaper by a whole bunch. The chart is displayed prominently where every walk-in can't miss it. Do undecided customers think mail cost is significant? "Yes, they do -- it's very important," he says with emphasis. Customers want cheap email, he explains, because that accounts for a lot of usage.

Skinning Up
In addition to touting cheaper mail, he also likes to hook customers by directing them to the supremely cool Sony Ericsson C1002S handset -- a 2G model that is skinnable in a wide selection of colors, patterns and textures. Endo says these skins -- mountable on a detachable panel that slides onto the handset -- are quite popular. "It costs JPY1,200 for the simpler ones, but the textured patterns go up to JPY1,600." Nice ongoing income, that. Go get 'em KDDI -- you've got nowhere to go but up!

Emoji Craziness
Ever since the start of i-mode a zillion Internet years ago, keitai emailers have been using emoji -- electronic characters -- to compose messages on the fly and ease their sore thumbs. NTT DoCoMo, J-Phone and KDDI make use of proprietary sets of these little thingies that can convey all kinds of meaning -- happy faces, sad faces, clocks, beer mugs, pet dogs; you name it, and there's an emoji for it. The carriers create their own emoji (there are hundreds) and include them onboard the handsets as specialized font sets and a mail message sent from one handset to another (within the same network) will display the same emoji; reducing or even eliminating the need to type text.

Now, it looks like J-Phone has created the coolest set and J-Sky mail users -- predominately in the teen and twenty-something demographic -- have taken to creating a whole new vocabulary using nothing but emoji.

Roy Tseng, a long-time Japan keitai user (as well as ex-Webmaster at J@pan Inc magazine), says that character-based email on J-Sky has become hugely popular. "A typical message, like, 'Meet me for a beer at 6 pm' could consist, for example, of the emoji for a frosty beer mug and a clock showing 6 pm," explains Tseng, proud owner of a spanking new J-SH51 Movie Sha Mail handset.

Access the complete list of J-Sky emoji at http://www.dp.j-phone.com/emoji/e-moji.htm and our interview with Roy in the video archive section of Wireless Watch, at: http://www.japaninc.com/newsletters/index.html?list=ww 

We got together to create some emoji messages, shown below, and we challenge anyone to decipher their meaning. If it takes you more than 10 seconds to figure them out, all we can say is it's been a long time since you saw 25.@.

1. My stock is up, so I'll buy you dinner. How's 7 o'clock?
2. The baby is asleep at last, fancy a video tonight?
3. If it's fine weather this holiday weekend, how about going to an onsen by train?
4. I need to get money, so go ahead. I'll catch up later.
5. The problem has been solved. She accepted my proposal!

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