Tokyo: NTT DoCoMo, Japan’s biggest mobile operator, will launch 15 to 20 new smartphone and tablet models this autumn and winter, its CEO said on Friday, as it seeks to compete with Apple products offered by rival Softbank.
The giant carrier needs to boost data use as voice revenues slide in a maturing domestic market. It is also actively seeking investment opportunities overseas.
The new products will come on top of nine smartphones launched since April, and compare with a total of 13 models launched last financial year, ended 31 March.
NTT DoCoMo seeks to sell 6 million smartphones in the year to March 2012, compared with 2.52 million last year. Second-placed mobile operator KDDI expects to sell 4 million smartphones this year.
Softbank does not reveal smartphone sales targets, but has been outperforming its rivals in terms of net new contracts, though iPhone users complain about a patchy network.
“I haven’t given up,” Ryuji Yamada said in an interview with Reuters, when asked about the possibility that NTT DoCoMo could offer the iPhone in future.
“But the environment has changed. Three years ago the iPhone was just about the only smartphone. But now we have Android smartphones and customers are welcoming that,” he added, referring to the Google operating system used on a wide range of smartphones and tablets.
He said models such as Sony Ericsson’s Xperia Arco were proving popular in advance reservations because they offered features popular in the Japanese market, such as “Wallet Mobile”, which enables users to use their phone to make payments or as a ticket or identity card.
“Even if we offered the iPhone at this stage, it would be just one model in our lineup,” Yamada added, saying it would likely be difficult to include Japan-specific features in the iPhone.
In a bid to stay ahead in terms of network speed, NTT DoCoMo will include in its new range two tablets and four smartphones compatible with its growing high-speed 4G LTE network, Yamada said.
The company plans to spend $22.5 million for a 20% stake in a content provision joint venture with China’s largest search engine Baidu, in a deal to be completed around September, Yamada said.
The company declined to comment on detailed plans for the venture, which the Nikkei business daily said would provide games and cartoons for smartphone users.