Corporate Japan picks up on mobile data

Japan’s mobile data sector is coming of age. What started with Hello Kitty screen savers and downloadable ringer tones is now becoming workgroup server access from a cellphone screen.

All of Japan’s major enterprise software vendors, such as Fujitsu Ltd. and NEC Corp., are selling packages that extend their corporate database and network systems to mobile phones, and foreign companies are also moving into this market.

Earlier this year FileMaker Inc., the database software unit of Apple Computer Inc., launched an add-on for its FileMaker software that extends access to I-mode, NTT DoCoMo Inc.’s popular wireless Internet service.

The company has already found users, it said. NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai), Japan’s public broadcaster, is planning to publish a pronunciation dictionary via I-mode for use by its 6,000 radio and television announcers, while Kobe College is using the system to allow prospective students to schedule admissions interviews.

“The main target is business users,” said Dominique Goupil, president of FileMaker. “The I-mode service is very popular in Japan among consumers but is increasingly attractive to business as well.”

NTT DoCoMo has also signed deals with Oracle Corp. and SAP AG to work on I-mode interfaces and support for their database software offerings and is now beginning to turn its attention towards third-generation (3G) services.

Launched in October 2001, the initial few months of the 3G service have been less than spectacular. By the end of March this year, DoCoMo had 83,000 subscribers – well short of the 150,000 subscribers it had been hoping would be using the service at the end of its first five months.

Corporate users are a big part of NTT DoCoMo’s plans for 3G and the company is planning a number of new terminals especially targeted at this market.

The first such business-use 3G terminal was revealed in April. The F2611 combines the functions of a four-port Ethernet router with 3G handset. It can be used to set up a small office network, complete with Internet connection via the 3G network, and a companion handset allows users to make voice calls as well.