While western designers and manufacturers battle to corner the mobile web market, and while debate rages as to whether the mobile web even has any value to the western world, Japan is surging ahead with its mobile web applications and devices. Those in the know say that Japan is at least five years ahead of the western world when it comes to mobile technology and it seems that despite recent steps forward (3G iPhone) the gap is widening all the time.
Now Jajah, a VoIP service provider has joined eMobile to release a new kind of mobile telephony service that will only be available in Japan (for now at least). The service will run on a handheld device that operates on a cellular data network and Jason Kincaid, from Techcruch IT, believes that it represents what all phone networks will eventually become.
The thing that makes this a rather unusual prediction for telephone services is that the device on which it is used (Sharp EMoONE Ultra Mobile Device) lacks a radio for voice calls, even though it supports an HSDPA high-speed data network. The software developed by Jajah and eMobile gives the data-only device portable phone capabilities. Currently users are able to make outgoing calls, but have to pay a monthly subscription for a Direct Inward Dialling (DID) number in order to receive calls. And this is what Kincaid believes the future of telecommunications will become – VoIP over data.
But what works in Japan may not necessarily work for other countries around the world, no matter how much experts and innovators may want them to. According to a Techcrunch article by Serkan Toto, there are 90 million 3G in use in Japan and over 70% of the population subscribe to mobile web data plans. Meanwhile only 23.8% of the US population own 3G phones, which is still better than the 11.1% of the European population.
Serkan Toto believes that one of the reasons for the large discrepancy lies in the fact that Japanese companies never tried to recreate the wired internet experience on mobile phones, instead they worked to develop “unique mobile ecosystems” designed specifically to enhance the cell phone experience. In addition, email on mobile phones was enabled from the very start, so people learned to rely on their phones for their emailing needs and largely ignored email features on PCs. Despite some problems – insufficient CSS, lack of cookie support and restrictions by operators and the government – the mobile web in Japan is fast, sophisticated, stable and user-friendly.
So while people in Europe, Australasia and the Americas are getting excited about the fact that the new 3G iPhone allows for multiple tabs, the Japanese are using their phones as “e-wallets” to make over-the-counter payments, as commuter passes, in health control, and as digital TV and music players. Some can even transfer videos from Blu-ray recorders and are equipped with voice-to-text translation features.
And to rub salt in the wound, Docomo, one of Japan’s smartphone super-developers and manufacturers, has successfully transmitted 250Mbps packets in an experimental new Super-3G system, which they plan to launch in 2009.