NTT DoCoMo, Japan's leading mobile telephone service operator, has announced plans to launch a wireless video distribution service in that country using existing second-generation wireless technology. This is the first commercial venture of its kind in the world.
The service, which the company plans to launch on December 8, will employ MPEG-4 video compression and use the carrier's PHS (Personal Handyphone System ) network, according to a DoCoMo statement. PHS, a low power wireless technology developed in Japan, can support data transmission at up to 32kbps per channel and currently allows for two channels to be used simultaneously to offer speeds up to 64kbps.
These speeds, roughly equivalent to an analog computer modem, are fast enough to carry low-quality video and allow DoCoMo to experiment with the system. Its mainstream cellular network, which is based on the PDC (Personal Digital Communications) system, supports data speeds up to 14.4kbps, making it less suitable for such services.
DoCoMo said it will market the service under the brand name "M-stage visual," the initial "M" standing for multimedia, mobile and movie, it said. The basic monthly fee for the service will be 200 yen (around £1.00), although this will only be levied from June 2001, while the communications charge will be 15 yen per minute. Additional charges for the content may also be levied on users.
Users will be able to access the service through a special terminal dubbed "eggy." The device, which predictably is egg-shaped, features a poly-silicon LCD (liquid crystal display) screen and doubles as a digital still camera. Owners can use the eggy to both watch video and send and receive still images.
While M-stage visual is a full commercial service, for NTT DoCoMo it also represents a market research project looking at the demands of users for video via wireless handsets. The carrier plans to launch a third-generation WCDMA (Wideband Code Division Multiple Access) -based network in Tokyo and Osaka in May 2001 and the ability to send and receive video is expected to be a key feature of the service. However, as no such service exists at present, the needs and demands of users are largely unknown.
"M-stage visual is a service for PHS users but it also has a meaning as a trial for the next-generation cellular phone service," said Yuki Isono, a spokeswoman for NTT DoCoMo.
In a similar move, NTT DoCoMo launched a PHS-based service earlier this year that allows users to buy and download music through their handsets. The service is serving as a real-world test of technologies ranging from compression and download systems to copy-protection systems.