Something akin to an earthquake hit Japan’s mobile phone industry earlier this week when sales figures for last month revealed that leading network NTT DoCoMo’s share of the market has fallen below half for the first time in 10 years.
A market slice of 49.7 per cent might still sound luxurious to most Western telcos, but DoCoMo’s dominance has hitherto been unchallenged throughout the mobile boom.
At the heart of the change, which has been on the cards for several months, lie two factors. Firstly, the introduction of number portability at the end of 2006 allowed users to switch carrier without losing their number.
Secondly, Softbank’s takeover of the ailing Vodafone Japan network two years ago gave the entire industry a kick in its slightly dowdy and moth-eaten pants.
The result is mostly in favour of Softbank, with the number three carrier now holding around 18 per cent of the market. Second-placed KDDI (under its au brand) has also benefited from the defection away from DoCoMo, sitting at about 30 per cent now.
One thing customers of all three networks will be glad to see at last is price competition – monthly tariffs are falling across the board and pressure from Softbank is also forcing lower calling charges as well.