Sunday, July 02, 2006

GSM-ing Japan or 3G/CDMA-ing your phones?

One thing that always amazes me from Japan is its love-hate relationship with globalization. Sure, Japan is in the front row of the wave of globalization. But it also the one country struggling against the globalization so stubbornly. I've been trying to find the answer whenever I visit Japan. This morning, on the way from Narita airport to Tokyo, I chatted with a senior Japanese citizen. He told me an interesting thing. He said, Japanese elders are worried with the future of Japan. Why so, I asked. He pointed at a bunch of youngters on a train station platform. "You see those kids? They are our future. But look at them. What on earth do they think they are doing with their hair? (each of the kids had colored hair, I noticed). And see what they're reading? Manga! When I was their age, I read history every day. I know by heart all the details of Japanese ups and downs. But those kids. They worry me. They can make us loose our national identity...".

I felt sorry for the old man. But I think such perspective is not unique. You can hear it everywhere: older generations hate the younger ones just because the latter don't like what the former did good (or so they thought). We have that species too in Indonesia. If they were good (or if they liked) mathematics for example, they think everyone who doesn't is dangerous to the country.

But that's not what interested me, frankly speaking.

I was more curious why my mobile is not working here in Japan. I have been using it in other countries. But it is useless here. Simply because my mobile (and so are many of yours) works with GSM system. Unfortunately, Japan refuses to use GSM as its cellular technology. Somebody told me that to get around this problem I should have bought a mobile with 3G technology, or at least a W-CDMA. That way, I can still use it when I am in Japan or other countries that are not GSM subsribers (any other? I thought more than 200 countries use GSM).

So I was thinking. If the world is moving toward more efficient technology, the most usable one would win at the end. Let's see some years from now. Whether Japan is changing to GSM or, people (non-Japan residents) are switching to 3G/W-CDMA mobiles.

Unlike my travel mate this morning, I wouldn't relate the Japanese cellular policy to any sort of nationalism (I think he would). I guess it's just pure business: DoCoMo is too strong an influence to the Japanese Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications. It needs competition.



  1. looking at other examples: PAL vs. NTSC, Beta vs. VHS, DVD- vs. DVD+. i think convergence is not always the case.

  2. Aco,

    "If the world is moving toward more efficient technology, the most usable one would win at the end"

    Is it possible that the question is more whether we are going to use the 'today's technology' or 'tomorrow's technology' rather than simply 'choosing' among standards?

    Incidentally I was reading this article in the IHT, and it says:

    The technology is being seen first in Japan because emergency regulations there require cellphones by next year to have receivers using the satellite-based Global Positioning System, or GPS, to establish their location.

    Japanese phones do not work on European mobile networks.

    In the United States, carriers have the option of a less precise locating technology ...

    As a result, analysts say Japan will have a head start of several years in what many expect to be a new frontier for mobile devices.

    Maybe you can find time to read the article, and since you are now in Japan, give the technology a try !

    I wish I could try it.


  3. you were in Japan?
    geez, we should've meet up!

  4. Ah, I despise Japan for their mobile technology decision. It made my communication means a living hell when I was there. But I heard they now have HD-ready TV sets manufactured while the rest of the world is still getting their heads around what HD technology actually is. Korea is trying to catch up, as well. When will it be our turn, I wonder.

  5. Co, why didnt you tell me that you would visit Tokyo? we could have a cup of coffee.
    Btw, about WCDMA which beats GSM in Japan, I think because of its powerful ability to transfer large data faster than any GSM does. Here we're welcome watching TV in our mobile phone and having video phone call with our buddies, let alone using (long) email on our cel.
    I dont think Japan will change this amazing technology. Most likely, they will be more agressive to embed 3G technology and let the world do the same thing. (I have a 3G phone here, I can use it in many countries, not only in Japan ;))
    One more, Vodafone in Japan gave up already. Soft Bank takes it over...

  6. not only japan that not using GSM. US and Korea use CDMA as well. And of course Indonesia he.he. have using both GSM and CDMA at the same time. BTW I thought vodaphone japan is using GSM?

    To me the worst is that some country like US that still not using metric system on their daily usage. Why they keep using "inches, feet, yards, etc" instead of "centi-meter,meter,km,.."

  7. Roby: Or, people get around it with cheap but powerful (I don't know how that happens) technology like those cheap DVD players made in China that are "region-free" (is that what they call them?).

    Ben: Thank you for the reference (will read it later -- I'm too tied up now with this congress thing). I agree with you (and Dew) that Japan has a head start in many, many things.

    Detta and Fau, yes, we should've met! I'm now in Kyoto for this conference. Will be back in Tokyo Friday.

  8. the thing with japanese is they build things for their local standard so they don't really care for everywhere else. most of the time, they arrived at new tech first, and instead of waiting of various bodies to ratify as it is in the states, they just rolled with it.

    at which point, the American companies feel the need to pick a DIFFERENT standard to avoid Japanese domination.

    and as anyone can tell you, tech standards were almost never build on the most effecient technology. only the most effective compromise.

  9. I guess that comes together with Japanese consistencies, stubborn-ness, nationalist, consistently stubborn, stubbornly consistent, stubbornly nationalist.. which ever way you call it...

    Other examples of their stubbornness:
    (i) Sticking to Manga (or Hentai.. mmm) style comics and animations (sorry ... cartoons are for ROTW).
    (ii) The way they always picture themselves in point (i) with round big eyes with pointy nose eventhough in real life that might not be the case.
    (iii) Their tactics in WC06, counterattacking through the wings, and launching crosses to the penalty area, eventhough they don't have any striker there. And if they do, some of strikers are just 'vertically challenged' to the opposing defenders or there is simply no quality in the crosses.

  10. aco, i was in Kyoto just a week before! mingled with some (mad) scientists from Kyodai but different major. btw, that conference center was used as The Police's concert in 1984.

    i couldn't agree more with treespotter. battle of Japanesse-American-European standards haven't made our becoming-more-global life easier. but then again, literally quoting a friend : di mana bumi dipijak, di situ langit dijunjung, di sana kita terjebak.

  11. "If the world is moving toward more efficient technology, the most usable one would win at the end"

    Most usable one, perhaps. Most efficient one, not necessarily so, especially since networks have increasing return to scale.

    But neither need to adapt, since it seems multi-system mobile phones are quite cheap to produce (at least relative to the incomes of those who travel around the world much)...

  12. I guess it's now up to us (the followers) of which one to adapt?:)

  13. just a reminder, you guys are getting lazy aren't you?