This high profile Japanese operator has been instrumental in the development of new mobile technologies, such as 3G UMTS and 4G LTE.
Japan is one of the few countries where GSM is not supported (Korea being another notable exception). Their 2G system, called PDC, was switched off in 2009. Visitors with 3G UMTS phones will find they do work in Japan, but only with SoftBank (formerly Vodafone KK), who operate a 3G network using the global UMTS standard at the common 2100MHz frequency.
NTT DoCoMo pioneered the 3G UMTS standard and launched an early variant, called FOMA, which operates at 1500MHz.
The network serves over 50 million customers, of which over 40 million are 3G enabled.
The Japanese market is constrained by regulations which require any cellsite to be installed and maintained only by qualified personel. This leads to the strange situation where any householder cannot even switch the unit on and off without a visit from a technician. Operators are said to be lobbying hard for a change in the law to enable rollout of residential femtocells.
NTT DoCoMo's original femtocell was developed and supplied by Mitsubishi in 2007, presumably to meet their specific requirements. It is likely this is compatible with FOMA phones rather than global compatible UMTS models. There was very little publicity about this product, suggesting that this is really more of a trial than high volume commercial launch. The specifications are similar to other models of that era, with data rates of 3.6Mbit/s down and 384k/s up.
This initial service launched in July 2007 but appears to have had little marketing promotion.
Femtocells postponed in favour of dual-mode WiFi service
At that time NTT DoCoMo more publicly promoted their dual-mode WiFi service, which was re-launched Home U in May 2008. Some commentators suggested that femtocell testing continued but dual-mode WiFi was more ready for commercial service at this stage.
In total, home services were reported to have achieved sales of some 24,000 units by the end of 2008, the vast majority of which are likely to be WiFi based.
Second Version Launch scheduled for late 2009
Announced in July 2009, a second model of the 3G residential femtocell with much higher data rates of up to 14.4Mbit/s downlink and 5.7Mbit/s uplink. The high uplink speed exceeds what is available on the standard outdoor network, which didn't yet support HSUPA. The second generation product was targetted to be on sale during Q3 2009, and represented full commercial entry for the femtocell proposition.
Launch Date confirmed as 18 November 2009
The NTT DoCoMo femtocell service is branded "MyArea" and is targeted at both domestic and small businesses went on sale in November 2009. Pricing is very attractive - a one-off US$22 then $10/month. This already low pricing is made even more attractive for the launch by waving the signup fee completely and reducing the ongoing monthly charge to $5. This reduced price offer was valid until end May 2010.
Multimode 3G/LTE residential femtocell announced November 2012, launched December 2012
The 3G/LTE combined unit shown on the right was announced in November 2012. It measures 18.5cm x 17.5cm x 4.5cm and weighs 0.7Kg. Using LTE, it can theoretically deliver 112.5 Mbit/s downlink and 37.5 Mbit/s uplink, although these speeds are unlikely to be achieved in real life. High speed wireline broadband is common in Japan, and will be needed if required to achieve the full potential of LTE speeds.
The product, as for 3G only, is again supplied by Mitsubishi.
The femtocell is branded "My Area" and principally targetted at residential users.
The femtocell supports presence applications, specifically emailing a predefined person when someone enters or leaves the femtocell coverage area.The feature “imasuka” (loosely translated, means "are you there?" in English) sends an email notification to a predefined person when a user enters or leaves the femtocell zone.
A limited number of Auto-GPS capable handsets support this feature (initially 7 models). This is expected to be used for:
- Automatically emailing parents when their children return home
- Announcing special offers from local shops when in the area (where subscribers have opted-in for such location based services).
As mentioned above, legal restrictions in Japan require the unit to be installed by a technician who must visit and physically turn on the unit. Lead time from order is quoted as an average of 6 weeks to installation.
A picture of DoCoMo's 2nd generation 3G femtocell is shown below:
Transmission Power; 20mW
Concurrent users: 4
Registered users: 10
Max Data Speed: 14.4Mb/s down, 5.7Mb/s up
Ethernet 100/10 Mbit/s 10BaseT
Size 180 x 135 x 35 mm